Leonard, Popovich named as finalists for NBA awards

San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard has been named a finalist for two major NBA awards, and his coach also is up for a top prize.

The NBA announced Friday night that Leonard and Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich are finalists for the NBA Awards, which will be announced June 26 following the season.

Leonard is a finalist for Most Valuable Player along with James Harden of the Houston Rockets and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

He's also a finalist for the Defensive Player of the Year award, which he has won the past two seasons. Other finalists are Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz and Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors.

Popovich is up for Coach of the Year along with Mike D'Antoni of the Houston Rockets and Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat.

Ask Leonard about individual honors and he'll respond with his standard five-word reply: "I just want to win."

One of pro sports' most understated stars, Leonard shuns the spotlight and always deflects credit to his teammates. In a nutshell, he's the consummate team player. And, more specifically, a typical Spurs player.

Leonard, who turns 26 on June 29, is in his sixth season with San Antonio. He already was becoming the face of the franchise before iconic Tim Duncan retired last July. Leonard played at San Diego State for two seasons before being drafted in 2012 by the Indiana Pacers, who traded his rights to the Silver and Black for George Hill that night.

Leonard is hoping to become only the second person to be named Defensive Player of the the Year three consecutive seasons. Dwight Howard won the award in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

"I've been here since he was drafted, so I've been able to watch him grow," Spurs guard Danny Green said. "Pretty amazing to watch, each year how he's come back better and better."

Leonard averaged 1.8 steals and 3.4 deflections this season. He allowed only 40 isolation points this season and faced just 43 isolation plays, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Spurs fans have routinely chanted M-V-P, MVP, MVP every time Leonard has stepped to the free-throw line since midseason. He averaged a career-high 25.5 points this season, finishing as the league's ninth-leading scorer. Leonard was the first San Antonio player to average 25 points since Duncan during the 2001-02 season.

Called simply "Pop" by his players, coaches and the legions of Spurs fans throughout the country and beyond, Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford have built a franchise hailed as one of the best in pro sports.  

A three-time NBA Coach of the Year, Popovich has led San Antonio to five league championships. He won the coaching award after the 2002-03, 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons. The Spurs won titles in 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014.

Popovich, 68, may have done one of the best coaching jobs of his long career this season. Playing their first season in 20 years without Duncan, the Spurs remained title contenders under Popovich's steady leadership.

Popovich guided the Silver and Black to 60 victories for the second-straight season and a 20th consecutive playoff appearance. He tied Phil Jackson for most consecutive postseason appearances by a coach in NBA history.

The Spurs led the NBA in defensive efficiency for the eighth season under Popovich,

Popovich has compiled a 1,150-506 (.694) regular-season record since taking over the Spurs' coaching job 18 games into the 1996-97 campaign. He is 166-104 (.615) in the playoffs.

The Spurs finished with the second-best record (61-21) in the league this season, and they reached the Western Conference finals for the 10th time during Popovich's tenure.

Golden State leads San Antonio 2-0 in the conference finals. Game 3 is at 8 p.m. Saturday at the AT&T Center.

© 2017 KENS-TV


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