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Kawhi Leonard: From Inland Empire to NBA champion to Clippers

Kawhi Leonard: From Inland Empire to NBA champion to Clippers
Kawhi Leonard’s basketball career took off at Martin Luther King High in Riverside. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

When Kawhi Leonard finally made his decision during NBA free agency to join the Clippers, it began a new chapter in the life of the two-time NBA champion.

A look at the rise of the Southern California star:

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2006-2009: Leonard rises to prominence during his high school playing days, first at Canyon Springs in Moreno Valley, where he grew up, and then for two seasons after transferring to Martin Luther King High in Riverside. When he was a junior, Leonard’s father, Mark, was fatally shot on Jan. 18, 2008. His senior season, Leonard averaged 22.6 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 3.0 blocks per game and earned a variety of all-state honors, including California player of the year.

2009-2011: Despite getting passed over for a basketball scholarship to a power-conference university, Leonard excels at San Diego State for two seasons, leading the Aztecs to two NCAA appearances and a record of 59-12. San Diego State advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2013, losing to eventual champion Connecticut. Leonard was selected a second-team All-American and decided to turn pro.

2011-12: Leonard is the No. 15 overall selection in the NBA draft in June 2011, his rights shipped from the Indiana Pacers to the San Antonio Spurs in a draft-day deal. He has a stellar season, earning NBA All-Rookie honors. He averaged 7.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.3 steals. He appeared in 64 games and made 39 starts.

2012-2013: His sophomore season as a pro ended in the NBA Finals. Taking on LeBron James’ defending champion Miami Heat, Leonard averaged a double-double (14.6 points, 11.1 rebounds) in the Finals, but the Spurs lost in seven games. During the regular season, he averaged 11.9 points and 6.0 rebounds.

2013-2014: He becomes the face of the Spurs franchise on an aging team that includes Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. San Antonio advances to the NBA Finals again and this time the Spurs prevail over James and the Heat in five games. Leonard is selected NBA Finals MVP. He averaged 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 steals during the playoffs. He was also chosen to the NBA All-Defensive second team.

Kawhi Leonard receives the 2016 defensive player of the year award.
Kawhi Leonard receives the 2016 defensive player of the year award. (Associated Press)

2014-2015: Leonard’s ascension to the top of the NBA continues in his fourth season when he’s chosen All-Defensive first team and selected as the league’s defensive player of the year when he led all players with 2.3 steals per game. He also averaged career highs of 16.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists.

2015-2016: He takes his place among the elite players in the league when he’s selected to his first All-Star game, earns All-NBA and All-Defensive first-team honors and is again chosen as the league’s defensive player of the year. He averaged a career-high 21.2 points, 2.6 assists and 1.0 blocked shots along with 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals.

Cavaliers forward LeBron James tries to drive past Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard during a game in 2017.
Cavaliers forward LeBron James tries to drive past Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard during a game in 2017. (Tony Dejak / Associated Press)

2016-2017: Leonard plays in a career-high 74 games and sets new personal bests by averaging 25.2 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 88% from the free-throw line. He plays in his second All-Star game and is again selected All-NBA and All-Defensive first team.

2017-2018: His run in San Antonio is disrupted by a right quadriceps injury that costs him the first 28 games of the season. He returns for nine games but decides to stop playing after a shoulder injury and the discovery of quadriceps tendinopathy. Discord with team officials eventually leads him to request a trade and in the offseason the Toronto Raptors acquire him and Danny Green in a deal that sends All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl and a first-round draft pick to San Antonio.

2018-19: Leonard becomes arguably the best two-way player in the league, perhaps sharing that distinction with Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is selected the league MVP and finalist for defensive player of the year. Leonard leads the Raptors to their first title over two-time defending champion Golden State, which was hobbled by injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Leonard is the Finals MVP after averaging a career-high 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds as well as 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals during the regular season. He played in only 60 games but still earned All-NBA and All-Defensive second-team honors.

2019-20: Leonard will join forces with All-Star forward Paul George, who the Clippers will acquire in a trade that cost them veteran forward Danilo Gallinari, second-year point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a bevy of first-round draft picks. The Clippers have plenty of talent to support the All-NBA duo, including veteran guards Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams, dynamic big man Montrezl Harrell as well as second-year guards Landry Shamet and Jerome Robinson. They might also be able to bring back young center Ivica Zubac, a restricted free agent.

Sources: basketball.reference.com, nba.com

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