OAKLAND – Steph Curry is the reigning MVP and Tim Duncan is a two-time winner of the NBA’s highest individual award. But the Warriors and Spurs have other MVP candidates that have soared far beyond initial projections.
That’s because Warriors forward Draymond Green and Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, both unique players with uncommon first names, believed in themselves long before the rest of the league became believers.
“They’re pretty complete players,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Sunday. “They play at both ends of the floor and they’re unselfish people. They’re each quite important to their teams, for sure.”
Leonard was voted Defensive Player of the Year last season. Green finished second.
Leonard was voted into the starting lineup for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game next month. Green, ahead of Leonard until the final week, ended up missing the cut and will have to settle for being selected by coaches as a reserve.
“They use Kawhi a little bit like we use Draymond,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They can put him on anybody; we can put Draymond on anybody. I would expect Kawhi to spend a little time on pretty much everybody on our team.”
Both are inspiring stories for their determination and work ethic. Leonard is a 15th overall draft pick (2011) who has emerged as the centerpiece for the next generation Spurs. Green, a second round pick, 35th overall (2012), has joined Steph Curry and Klay Thompson as pillars for a team that won the 2015 championship.
Green is stronger for his experiences in blue-collar Saginaw, Mich., where his father influenced him and his mother kept him straight. Green says his mother, Mary Babers-Green, is his best friend.
Leonard’s father, Mark, who chose his son’s first name, also influenced Kawhi, instilling the virtues of work. Kawhi was 16-year-old junior at King High in Riverside when Mark was murdered outside his car wash in South Central Los Angeles.
Kawhi played in a game the next night because he believed it’s what his father would have wanted.
And look at Leonard now, the 2014 NBA Finals MVP, regarded by some as the most complete player in the league.
“We always talk about two-way players and how important it is, especially in the modern NBA, where you can’t hide a guy at either end,” Kerr said. “He’s probably the best two-way player in the league now.”
Green is averaging 14.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists. He leads the league in triple-doubles, with eight.
Leonard is averaging 20 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists. He is second in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage (47.8).
“You have to deal with him in all kinds of different ways,” Kerr said. “He’s a terror on defense, and offensively he’s gotten better and better. His 3-point shooting is really, really good. And he’s so strong that he can score around the rim. He’s a great player, and it’s kind of slowly but surely become his team in a lot of ways.”
Leonard is an exceedingly rare player. Green is extraordinarily for his varied skills. Both are stars. And both dropped a lot of sweat along the way.