The ever-increasing roster of Spurs participants at All-Star Weekend includes second-year forward Kawhi Leonard, one of eight "sophomore" players selected to participate in this year's Rising Stars Challenge on Feb. 15.

Despite missing 19 games after being diagnosed with left quadriceps tendinitis on Nov. 19, Leonard has emerged as one of the league's best young defenders. He has started all 29 of the games he has played this season for a Spurs team that has the best record in the NBA (37-11).

The 15th overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, Leonard was selected for last year's Rising Stars Challenge in Orlando but did not play because of a strained left calf muscle.

"I'm just happy the coaches recognized my progress and see how hard I've been working on each game," Leonard said. "It's just been an up-and-down season. I'm just having a good mindset and I've got a great group of guys around me motivating me to keep playing harder.

"I think it's going good. It's getting better as the year is going on."

Leonard is averaging 9.4 points per game and shooting 40.2 percent from 3-point range this season, but his biggest impact is at the defensive end. In the 21 games since he returned to the lineup, the Spurs have a defensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) rating of 96.5. That is better than the team's overall defensive rating of 98.1 and nearly as low as that of the Pacers, whose 96.1 is the league's best.

Leonard, who leads the Spurs in steals (1.83) per game, said the quadriceps tendinitis has caused him no major problems since he was sidelined for a month.

"There's not too much pain, just a little pain here and there sometimes when I'm going up and down," he said. "But I'm out there on the floor, so there's no excuses."

The other second-year players selected for the Rising Stars game are Cavs guard Kyrie Irving, Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried, Pistons guard Brandon Knight, Rockets forward Chandler Parsons, Warriors guard Klay Thompson, Cavs center Tristan Thompson, Magic forward Nikola Vucevic and Bobcats guard Kemba Walker.