Toronto Raptors: Leadership comes in many forms

Kyle Lowry #7 and Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors look on during the first half against the Boston Celtics. (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
Kyle Lowry #7 and Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors look on during the first half against the Boston Celtics. (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images) /

Despite criticism about Kawhi Leonard’s leadership skills, it’s clear he’s doing what it takes to elevate the Toronto Raptors to genuine championship contenders.

It’s been an interesting few days for the Toronto Raptors, particularly Kawhi Leonard. On Friday, his former coach Greg Popovich responded to a reporter’s question and discussed his leadership skills, or lack thereof.

It’s important to note that Popovich praised Leonard for being a great player. However, as reported by the Toronto Star, he didn’t perceive him as a leader:

"“Kawhi was a great player, but he wasn’t a leader or anything. Manu and Patty were the leaders. Kawhi’s talent will always be missed, but that leadership wasn’t his deal at that time. That may come as he progresses, but Manu and Patty filled that role last year, and LaMarcus (Aldridge) came a long way in that regard also.”"

Now, if we look at this objectively, Popovich’s assessment was actually reasonable. He even made a point of saying Leonard’s leadership skills could develop over time.

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You can also add the reality that there wasn’t really any need for the 2014 NBA Finals MVP to step up in this area, given the veterans on the San Antonio Spurs. Regardless, it didn’t stop people taken the opportunity to jump on the comments and suggest they were a subtle dig at Leonard.

Unfortunately, Leonard himself seemed to be taken in by this angle, at least to some extent. As reported by Matt Eppers of USA Today, he responded on Sunday by saying:

"“It’s just funny to me because, I don’t know if he’s talking about last year or not, but I guess when you stop playing they forget how you lead. Other than that, it doesn’t matter. I’m here with the Raptors.”"

Of course, what Leonard has brought to the Toronto Raptors has helped elevate them to genuine championship contenders. And the exciting thing for fans is that you get the feeling he and the rest of the team still have another level or two to rise.

And really, Leonard’s performances this season prove what has often been said, that there are many forms of leadership. Examples include; being vocal, being accountable, the main decision maker, adaptable and so on.

In the case of Leonard, his leadership comes in the form of leading by example. He let’s his play speak for itself; even more important for an individual who is not renowned for being particularly vocal.

In this respect, there can be no denying the impact of the two-time All-Star on a team which currently has the best record in the NBA. While it’s still early in the season, it’s worth noting he is on course for career-bests in scoring and rebounding average.

For a more specific example of Leonard’s style of leadership, look no further than Sunday’s match-up with the Miami Heat. Dwyane Wade decided to take everyone on a trip down memory lane, as he came off the bench to score a game-high 35 points.

Finally, Nick Nurse had enough, and decided to get Leonard to guard Wade. The move proved to be a wise one, as the impact of the Heat’s (former) superstar was stifled, and the Raptors came away with a 125-115 win.

As with his time in San Antonio, Leonard doesn’t need to be a vocal and obvious leader; having Kyle Lowry on your team helps in this respect. However, in his own quiet way, his style of leadership is proving to be just as effective.

Next. Pascal Siakam elevating Raptors to contender status. dark

What is your take on the recent criticism regarding Leonard? Does it even matter? And in the grand scheme of things, do you now see the Toronto Raptors as genuine championship contenders? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.