Recapping with the New York Knicks: Manu back!

Player of the game: Manu Ginobili

Mar 7, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; New York Knicks guard Baron Davis (85) struggles to keep the ball under pressure from San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (left) during the first half against the New York Knicks at the AT

Hey guys, Manu is back! Last night, Manu was cognizant of the game situation (only he can alter the complexion of an entire basketball game), creatively found guys off pick-and-rolls (I think Josh Harrellson vaguely remembers getting beat on a Manu-Tiago Splitter pick-and-roll in the first quarter), knocking down three’s and making the most of his shot opportunities.

His complete line: 17 points on 7-10 shooting (.700 FG%), 3-5 from behind the arc, four rebounds, six assists, one steal, one block and a team leading plus-17. His game wasn’t perfect — he missed his only two free throws and had four turnovers — but considering he hasn’t played this well since Dec. 31, it’s definitely a good sign.

The remainder of the Big Three — Tim Duncan and Tony Parker — also had strong games. To put their success into context, Manu, Timmy and Tony accounted for 55.9% of our total points. Duncan poured in 17 points on 6-11 shooting (.545 FG%), eight rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block. Normally, Parker’s impressive performance — 32 points on 12-19 shooting (.632 FG%), six assists and 8-9 from the line — would garner more attention. But, since he’s essentially carried the team on his shoulders the entire year, I have developed abnormally high standards. Without Tyson Chandler (1.4 blocks per game) protecting the rim, Parker was able to get to the rim with impunity. The Spurs, as a result, dominated the paint. They outscored the New York Knicks, 60-38, in that regard. That matched their season high that was set on Jan. 21 at Houston.

Something to consider: Kawhi Leonard playing more power forward

Feb. 21, 2012; Portland, OR, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) drives to the basket past Portland Trail Blazers center Marcus Camby (23) during the first quarter of the game at the Rose Garden. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE

Leonard had another quietly impressive game. He scored 10 points on 4-4 shooting (2.5 points per shot), grabbed six boards and created three steals. It seemed that Kawhi was always in the right spot at the right time. He made all the right cuts and benefited from nice passing and didn’t force the issue on offense. As a rookie, he seems to have an adept knowledge of his talents and doesn’t seem to strain himself doing something he’s uncomfortable. He’s been an average three-point shooter (.333 3P%) and that is especially important given his exceptional defense.

And here’s where I offer my point of view. I think Leonard should give more minutes than Richard Jefferson. Right now, he has a higher PER, rebounds at an elite rate for small forwards, creates turnovers (2.3 steals per 40 minutes which is 12th in the NBA) and, most importantly, offers a lot more positional eligibility than RJ. At 6’7″, Leonard is capable of guarding point guards, shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards. Therein lies the value of Leonard.

If Pop wants to utilize small ball lineups without sacrificing too much defensively, Kawhi should be used more at the four. In limited time, Leonard has allowed a .413 eFG% against opposing power forwards. In that span, the Spurs would able to bombard the defense with penetration and shooting while being able to play decent defense themselves. I’m not sure how defenses would be able to contain these lineups without going small themselves. Kawhi’s flexibility allows them to do that. I love his game and I’m definitely excited for the potential for him to earn more minutes in the future. He’s not even close to reaching his complete ceiling. I can’t wait.

In Kawhi, I trust.

Topics: Josh Harrellson, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Tyson Chandler

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