Kawhi Leonard Breaking Out Quietly?

By Nick Elizondo

Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

I already broke down Kawhi Leonard’s first game returning from injury. Since coming back, Leonard is averaging 14.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.8 blocks, and 2.8 steals in just 31.2 minutes. His efficient shooting has led his percentages to increase to 58.5 percent from the field, 55.8 percent from long range, and 97.6 percent from the free throw line since coming back. His aggression has gone up a notch and is a primary contributor to his increase in offense.

All of these stats are above Kawhi’s season averages, and this includes a game where he shutdown LeBron James (as much as you can shut him down), which can hinder someone’s offensive game by using all their energy on defense.

If we were to look at his stats without the Miami game – in which he still did a decent job on the offensive end – his offensive averages enhance to 15.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists while shooting 64 percent from the field and 62 percent from deep. Don’t look now, but Kawhi Leonard is turning into an even bigger threat on the offensive end. He is putting up very solid numbers since his return while shooting only 9.3 shots per game.

This should start to worry other teams; the Spurs were already dominant on offense with their ball movement and multiple options, but one of their options just became even more dangerous.

Come playoff time, everyone can expect Leonard’s minutes to go up and for him to zone into his playoff mode like he did in the Finals last year. If we take a look at Leonard’s stats, if he were see his minutes increased to 36 a game, then we could all expect to see Leonard putting up around 17.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game. That’s scary for teams to go up against when you already have Parker and Duncan doing their thing and a stacked bench that rips other second units apart.

Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

After seeing what Leonard did to Lebron James the other day, he definitely just reinforced his spot as one of the top perimeter defenders in the NBA. James played a solid 38 minutes and only came out with 19 points while shooting 33.3 percent and missing all three attempts from the three-point line.  James can blame the sleeved jerseys if he wants, but give credit where it’s due, Leonard was pestering him all game. Four of James’ five turnovers came from Leonard and Leonard was holding his place in the post by staying aggressive all game.

Leonard is flourishing in the steals and blocks categories right now and if he keeps this up, there shouldn’t be any reason not to see his name getting a few votes for the DPOY award. While his offense is starting to come together, as long as he keeps up his high-octane defense, he will be the Spurs’ most important weapon come playoffs.

Hopefully Leonard’s hot play can continue and silence all his critics. He is finally becoming the two-way player fans have been waiting for, and while his big jump may not be as noticeable as Paul George’s, these quiet baby steps in the right direction are exactly what the Spurs need.

All Stats Courtesy of NBA.com/stats