How Good Was Kawhi Leonard During His Time in San Diego Aztecs? How Did He Become Worth of NBA in 2011?

Published 03/14/2021, 6:08 AM EDT
Feb 7, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) controls the ball against the Sacramento Kings during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports


Los Angeles Clippers’ star Kawhi Leonard is one of the best players in the NBA. The 6’7″ forward is arguably the best perimeter defender and consistently puts in the work in the offensive end as well.

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But how good was ‘the Klaw’ in his college days?

Kawhi Leonard’s college career with the San Diego State

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Unlike other top players like Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker, who played for reputed teams like the Duke Blue Devils and the UConn Huskies, Kawhi actually played for the San Diego State Aztecs.

Despite playing in one of the premier high school in South California, all the big guns like Duke and Kentucky passed on the forward. With the Aztecs, Leonard showed why he was worth taking the risk.

In the very first season with the Aztecs, Kawhi led the team in points and rebounds averaging 12.7 points, 1.3 assists, and 9.9 rebounds per game. The Aztecs meanwhile thrived with Kawhi and ended up with a record of 25 wins and 9 losses.

This guaranteed them an appearance in the NCAA tournament, but they unfortunately were eliminated in the first round as Tennessee defeated them 62-59. The 19-year-old elevated his game in the second year.

In his sophomore season, Leonard averaged 15.5 points, 2.5 assists and 10.6 rebounds per game. He led the Aztecs to a staggering 34-3 record and led the team to their first appearance in the Sweet 16, but ultimately fell short against eventual champions UConn Huskies.

After two seasons with the Aztecs, ‘the Klaw‘ was ready to start a new journey in the NBA.

How did Kawhi Leonard end up with the San Antonio Spurs?

Despite having two solid seasons with the Texans, Kawhi was not seen as a top pick in the draft. In his pre-draft report, Leonard was a top defender in the class but still lacked the offensive quality needed to thrive in the NBA.

Thus he slipped to the 15th pick and was drafted by Indiana Pacers. But he was immediately traded to the Spurs for George Hill. The San Antonio Spurs are historically one of the best teams in the league.

The success the Spurs have had, especially in drafting talented players, has been staggering. From bringing in Tim Duncan, to Manu Ginobili to Tony Parker, the Spurs’ big three resulted from great drafting.

They took the same risk by bringing in Kawhi and trading a great point guard in George Hill. The rookie Leonard struggled to get minutes in the stacked Spurs team and averaged only 7.9 points and 5.1 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game in 24 minutes on court.

In his sophomore season, the then 21-year-old saw a jump in his stats owing to his increased minutes on the court. He averaged 11.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 31 minutes on the court. But ‘the Klaw’ was showing signs of taking a significant jump in the playoffs.

Playing 36 minutes and guarding the best guard and wing players, Kawhi averaged 13.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game in 21 games.

‘The Klaw’ proves his worth to the Spurs

After a disappointing game 7 loss to the Miami Heat in the 2013 finals, the Spurs were ready to run it back. They still had their big three of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker but knew that the 22-year-old Kawhi would be essential for their success.

Leonard continued to show steady progress in the regular season as well. Despite playing only 30 minutes on the court, the 22-year-old was averaging 12.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game.

But ‘the Klaw’ saved his A-game for the biggest stage of them all. Playing against the Heat for the second successive final, Gregg Popovich started with Kawhi in the lineup who guarded Heat’s best player, LeBron James.

The Klaw put on a defensive masterclass against ‘the King’ whole series. With Bron taking fewer shots and drives, the Heat’s offense collapsed. Kawhi also stepped up his offensive output massively against the Heat.

In the five games he played, he averaged 17.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, making 57% of his attempted three pointers. Unlike other championships were either Parker or Duncan took the Finals MVP trophy, it was the 22-year-old Leonard who the Finals MVP trophy.

What next for Kawhi Leonard?

The 2014 Finals was just the start of an impressive offensive growth the Klaw would have in Spurs. By 2016-17, Leonard was leading the Spurs in scoring averaging 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.

‘The Klaw’ needed a new challenge and eventually left the Spurs a year later was traded to the Toronto Raptors.

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Dec 25, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) celebrates with forward Serge Ibaka (9) and forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during a timeout in the third quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Raptors were absolutely unstoppable with Leonard. They even beat the injury-ridden big three of Warriors to clinch their first NBA title. Kawhi on the other hand won his 2nd Finals MVP trophy and joined the Clippers next season.

Playing with Paul George, ‘the Klaw’ is in one of the best teams in the league. They had a disappointing end to the 2019-20 season with a series loss to Nuggets.

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This season they are in much more stacked Western Conference. With teams getting stronger, road to finals will be tough. But given Kawhi’s resume, anything is possible with the 2-time Finals MVP on the court. Can Kawhi Leonard win his third NBA championship this season?

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Aditya Mohapatra

733 articles

Aditya Mohapatra is a sports enthusiast who primarily covers the NBA for EssentiallySports. Having graduated in Mass Communication, he has prior experience in writing for ABP News, and has been writing for EssentiallySports since November 2020. This die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan feels that LeBron James is the best thing to have ever happened to the NBA, and will hold a healthy debate with anyone suggesting otherwise.

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