The reigning NBA Finals MVP says he needs some rest, which is why he’s pulled out of the FIBA World Cup. That shows guts — and smarts. Kawhi Leonard is a product of Gregg Popovich, so why did we expect anything different? He’s also part of the younger generation, who doesn’t take the “U.S. vs. The World” stance that many of the older generations do.
From a basketball standpoint, the U.S. team will be just fine. Sure, Leonard is a lock-down defender who is growing by leaps and bounds as a player. Yes, the experience of hanging out with the best the basketball world has to offer would normally be a huge opportunity for a 23-year-old like Leonard — but he’s not a typical 23-year-old.
Check out Leonard’s growth through his first three seasons as a professional:
Now, take a look at his games played. In the regular season, he’s missed 38 games over the past three seasons. Is that cause for alarm? Not in and of itself, no. Don’t forget that he’s also played 58 postseason games over those same three seasons. It’s not like he’s taking it easy and sitting when it counts.
Still, Leonard realizes those aches and pains turn into something greater if a player isn’t careful. He’s watched it up-close, with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili going through the same kinds of problems after appearing for their national squads.
Leonard had this to say:
I went through those two seasons going down to June 20. That’s tough on your body to keep going. I’m just learning from Tony and Manu Ginobili, just going into that offseason and playing so hard and then coming back and their bodies not feeling the same and then being tired for the regular season. So I’m just learning from them.
If Leonard hadn’t already played on the biggest stages with some of the best teammates and coaching a guy could have, I might see this as a mistake. That’s just not the case here. He’s had terrific mentors, both in the playing and coaching ranks.
Leonard certainly has a lot of growing up to do in a basketball sense — any player who thinks they don’t is kidding themselves — but at the expense of one’s body breaking down? Kawhi is making the right decision to stay home. Then again, I happen to feel that the nation vs. nation competitions are outdated and no longer needed in a global society, so I might be a tad biased.