All eyes this season will be on Kawhi Leonard. With all-time great Tim Duncan retiring, and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker not far behind him,the Spurs are looking to pass the torch to players like Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
More from Spurs News
- Spurs show remarkable poise against Bulls, unlike many fans
- Devin Vassell is the latest in the Spurs’ collection of silent assassins
- San Antonio Spurs: 5 Players to avoid in any LaMarcus Aldridge deal
- Is Gregg Popovich hiding Luka Samanic as a secret weapon?
- San Antonio Spurs News: More DeRozan trade talk from Chris Haynes
The good news for San Diego State Hall of Famer, is that Spurs are not asking that he do more than he is capable of. With lifelong Spurs, Ginobili and Parker still around, the Spurs need Leonard to provide a vocal presence on the court or in the locker room.
It is unrealistic to expect Leonard to suddenly become the kind of player to start barking at teammates, and lead team huddles. I think Leonard will leave that to the guards (for some reason I see Patty Mills taking on a more active role as a veteran voice).
A realistic expectation will be to see Leonard’s scoring average to increase this season by about 4 to 6 points. After Leonard’s rookie year where he averaged a 7.9 points a game, his scoring average has increased by at least 4 points a game every season in his short career except one (2013-2014; his third year in the NBA).
Here is the breakdown of his scoring average since 2011, his rookie year:
2011-2012: 7.9 pts a game
2012-2013: 11.9 pts a game
2013-2014: 12.8 pts a game
2014-2015 16.5 pts a game
2015-2016 21.2 pts a game
Last season marked not only a career high in scoring average, but he also bested his 3 point shooting percentage. Leonard was among the league leaders with a .443 shooting percentage from behind the arc.
I expect this, and his field goal percentage to go down, however as his scoring average goes up. The Spurs need Leonard to facilitate more scoring opportunities, which in turn, means he will take more shots.
It will be a remarkable accomplishment if Leonard manages to keep his turnover average under two per game, as his usage rate is bound to go up as well.
Dec 18, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots against the Los Angeles Clippers at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports
The one stat that I’m certain Popovich will keep his eye on is Leonard’s assist average. Last season Leonard had a career high 2.6 assists per game, but the offense noticeably had a tendency to stall when he was trying to create a shot.
The true indicator of his progress on offense will be how well he facilitates shots for others. If Leonard somehow manages to put up 26 points and get four assists a game, the Spurs will be in a good place on the offensive end (assuming of course the guards consistently knock down open shots).
The biggest challenge that I see ahead of Leonard next season will be finding a way to get better on offense and still be the destructive force that he has been on the other side of the court. He will make all defensive team on sheer reputation alone, but I think this is the year that Draymond Green wins the Defensive Player of the year award.
Though no fault of Leonard’s, the Spurs defensive ratings will suffer with no true rim protector. Leonard will still be able to lock down Paul George, and give Lebron James the fits, but the team as a whole will give up more points in the paint (including more free throws).
The next two seasons will mark a gradual transition towards Leonard embracing his status as a franchise player. With such a strong support system at his disposal, he will have a remarkably easier transition than say Paul George, who was immediately thrust into that role with no veterans, and very little offensive help.
Leonard can relax knowing that all he has to do is play his game, and that his coaches and teammates will take care of the rest. He doesn’t have to be the man just yet.