"It's just a great challenge for me to try to help my team win by playing good defense on him (LeBron). I just accept the challenge and am ready to play. He's great on offense and defense. He can pass, he can shoot the ball, gets offensive rebounds and defensive rebounds and he can guard the best player on the other team."
Is it possible to stop the best player in the world LeBron James? Being so diverse and with the Heat being prone to playing small-ball the Spurs will have to utilise a lot of few weapons to try to stop him. One of their main weapons is Kawhi Leonard who in only two seasons has become a very versatile defender but hasn't faced an unstoppable force like this in a high pressure atmosphere. Here's how Leonard will try to stop him on the perimeter and in the paint.
On the perimeter
LeBron is least dangerous on the perimeter but definitely not a push over; he has drastically improved his three point shooting in the last two years from 33 percent to 40.6 percent, which is average to elite. LeBron recently has been going over screens to shoot the three and getting open shots off of good ball movement. What Leonard will do here to disrupt the pick and roll will be to fight over them and use his great length to put a hand in LeBron's face. Leonard will have to stick tight on LeBron off the ball to stop him getting the ball off of a cut from the weak-side in motion and to stop him getting open jumpers.
LeBron is great at getting others involved, averaging 6.4 assists this year in the playoffs, and can be more deadly being a shot creator than a shot taker. James tends to start early getting others involved and I'm sure the Spurs coach (Greg Popovich) will have informed Leonard. Leonard's great length is his biggest attribute on defense and will help disrupt LeBron's passing lines on the perimeter and look to knock passes away from their targets.
In the paint
LeBron is has again improved another aspect of his game this season, this is his post-up game which really came into factor in last year's Finals against the Thunder. LeBron also made mincemeat of Paul George early in the playoffs when he went to the low post. Leonard however is a lot stronger than George and will not be as easy to push around.
Leonard has become a master of blocking players when they penetrate off the dribble. This will be key because LeBron no matter what will get into the paint and with the fear of this aspect of Leonard may disrupt LeBron's rhythm. Also when LeBron gets into the paint by beating Leonard off the dribble he has great players that will provide help. These players being Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter who are both registered over 6'11" and Duncan especially has been a defensive presence his entire career.
Leonard has a defensive efficiency rating of 6.5 where when he is on the bench the Spurs opponents score on average 6.5 more points (per 100 possessions) than when he is on the floor.
Leonard's defensive techniques and length are amazingly showcased in this ESPN Sports Science video:
Don't expect Leonard to be a consistent threat on the offensive end -- his main task in this series is to slow down LeBron -- but if he can hit open threes (especially in the corner which has become a specialist) and penetrate to the rim when he can then he will have done all that's expected.
He has a huge task but it will be fun to see he can stop the best player in the world.