MySynergySports: What can Kawhi Leonard improve upon this year?

By Quixem Ramirez

Feb 6, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies small forward Rudy Gay (22) drives the ball to the goal while being guarded by San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) at the FedEx Forum. The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 89-84. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

(Editor’s note: This is the ninth of a series of posts that detail the San Antonio Spurs in a much more defined, analytical light. Statistics courtesy of the excellent MySynergySports.)

Kawhi Leonard finished as the 16th most efficient player in the league on a per possession basis and ranked fifth among his rookie class with a 16.6 PER.

There isn’t much to impugn from his rookie campaign, given the expectations heaped on a player that wasn’t expected to be a quality 3-point shooter, but it is reasonable to expect some improvement next season.

Leonard is an already effective weapon in transition, on jaunts away from the ball and on offensive rebounds, where his positioning and length allow him to convert in the paint against imposing interior defenders. These possession types are similar in the sense that they do not require much offensive creativity; this way Leonard is allowed to play off his teammates, alleviating his transition period the NBA.

So where may this improvement come? If the Spurs utilization of Leonard in Vegas is any indication, he will be tasked with more ball handling and shot creating duties. He did well on isolations in a limited basis, scoring 0.82 points per possession (PPP), but the sample size isn’t large enough to suggest that he will be an effective option this season. Leonard does possess the ideal combination of length and athleticism, however, to score around and over most small forwards.

Accounting for the likely increase of isolations, Leonard still has room to improve on spot-ups, where he shot 38.1% on 212 possessions. He is a nice perimeter shooter, nothing spectacular, but his refined shot should be conducive to higher shooting percentages in the future.

Defensively, Leonard graded as a below-average defender against isolations though that can be attributed to the tough assignments he drew. Boding well in his progression as a defender is that his immense length allows him to recover with ease and consistency. At this point, Leonard is a reliable defender that covers a ton of ground and he generally makes it difficult for the opposition to create ample space to maneuver. Leonard has drawn comparisons to the venerable Bruce Bowen which is indicative of his potential to develop into a lockdown defender.

For more on Leonard’s possession distribution and links to the first eight parts of the MySynergySports series, check the chart below.

More Synergy breakdowns: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII