Doc Rivers draws from San Antonio Spurs’ knowledge to coach Kawhi Leonard

ORLANDO, FLORIDA - JANUARY 26: Head coach Doc Rivers of the LA Clippers talks with Kawhi Leonard #2 against the Orlando Magic. They each spent extended time during their careers with the San Antonio Spurs. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FLORIDA - JANUARY 26: Head coach Doc Rivers of the LA Clippers talks with Kawhi Leonard #2 against the Orlando Magic. They each spent extended time during their careers with the San Antonio Spurs. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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A former San Antonio Spurs mind, Doc Rivers is drawing from his former team’s management of Kawhi Leonard to do a better job of coaching the star wing.

Coaches in today’s NBA have a completely different job from what they were asked to do in the early 2000s. The talent pool is wider than ever before with more star-caliber players in recent memory than ever before. For as much strategy is involved with being a head coach today, there’s also a lot of personality management involved — Something the San Antonio Spurs look to avoid. It’s part of the reason why former players like Steve Nash get hired for head coaching positions instead of esteemed free-agent coaches.

Former Spurs guard Doc Rivers has made for a fine head coach in the modern NBA. He helped lead the Boston Celtics to a championship in 2008 and has led talented LA Clippers teams for many years since being traded there. Now, Rivers is managing a team with a former Spurs star in Kawhi Leonard, whose quirks sometimes interfere with his pure talent.

When asked about coaching Leonard, Rivers noted that he’s looked back at head coach Gregg Popovich’s designed sets for the star forward. It’s well established that Rivers and Popovich have a solid relationship as Pop helped prepare Rivers for his days on the sideline. He was always somewhat of a player-coach as a floor general while he was playing, so the transition wasn’t too hard for Rivers.

Doc Rivers said he watched all offensive sets from San Antonio and Toronto when preparing what to run for Kawhi Leonard. He says he dusted off some plays from his Celtics playbook from 8 years ago that he ran for Paul Pierce to get Kawhi open in mid-range spots.

— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) September 4, 2020

Being that Leonard missed time due to load management and injuries during the season, Rivers is forced to adjust on the fly. Implementing different strategies as the Clippers aim for an NBA title is a bit untraditional, but it’s not a task that Rivers is afraid to tackle. It’s not surprising that Rivers looked at the Spurs’ strategies to help Kawhi since the silver and black groomed the two-time Finals MVP into the player he is today.

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Popovich is notorious for putting his players in a position to succeed both on and off the court. It’s something he and the organization pride themselves on, which plays a big part in their extraordinary player-development repertoire. Perhaps Leonard deserves more credit than he gets from Spurs fans for putting the work in to achieve this level of NBA greatness, but it remains true that he may not be the same player if not for his run in silver and black to start his Hall of Fame-worthy career.

San Antonio did a great job of running off-ball screens and pick-and-roll scenarios to get Kawhi to his favorite spots on the floor. For a player who was a non-shooter at the start of his career, getting Leonard to spots on the floor where he’s most comfortable paid off in boatloads as he developed his all-around offensive skillset. It gave him the confidence to go out and become a solidified 25 point-per-game scorer in this league.

It’s largely known that San Antonio’s historic run has influenced a ton of modern basketball. Many of the best teams in the NBA over the last two decades stem from player development, coaching and drafting based on the Spurs way. Even now that San Antonio is out of the playoffs, it’s what makes coaches, players and organizations wary of what the Spurs are doing and how they’re doing it.

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Seeing that Rivers is looking back on the Spurs’ offensive sets is just another feather in the cap for a historically great franchise.

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