It’s remarkable 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard has never scored 32 points in his career before. He’s certainly talented enough to have put up that figure at some point during his first four NBA seasons, but San Antonio’s system favors ball movement and motion in their offensive schemes, and it’s allowed Leonard to improve at this own pace without calling him to exceed what he’s comfortable attempting on the offensive end. That’s paying dividends now.
Leonard’s per-36 minute scoring average has improved every year he’s been in the league, and he’s not just a 3&D freak, but a well-rounded two-way monster who will absolutely get a max deal this summer. The Spurs will of course match.*
But last night, the 2015 Defensive Player of the Year shot 13-of-18 for a career-high 32 points in only 28 minutes of action. As a result, the Spurs crushed the Clippers, 100-73, in their first home playoff game, and it’s unclear whether LA will have what it takes to take home-court back with a win in Game 4. Kawhi was the biggest reason for the lopsided result:
Leonard’s had a tough season, despite the DPOY DAP. He suffered an eye infection to start the year, and a torn ligament in his right — shooting — hand kept him out of 15-straight contests from December to January.
The eye infection is a big reason he sported a career-low, 56.7, true shooting percentage this season, battling blurriness in his right eye to start the year. That was followed up by the torn tendon in his shooting hand. When he came back in January, it took him a couple of months to get right.
But in March and April, he shot almost 54 percent from the field, and over 40 percent from beyond the arc (compared with 47.9 percent for the year and 34.9 percent from three — both career-lows), finding a rhythm that’s helped him well in these playoffs.
Last night was just a culmination of his work to get right for San Antonio’s run to repeat. He looks pretty good from where we’re sitting.
*Whether he’d be smarter to wait for the TV-rights cap increase in 2016 to sign a long-term deal is another matter entirely, since rolling the dice on a qualifying offer, or a one-year deal, is a tricky proposition – just ask the divergent fates of Wesley Matthews and Jimmy Butler.
Statistical support via NBA.com and basketball-reference