This season has been a mixed bag for San Antonio's heir apparent. Due to injuries and inconsistency, Kawhi Leonard has yet to maintain the level he showed in last June's NBA Finals. An eye infection he sustained over the summer forced him to miss the beginning of the season. Shortly after returning from that, he tore a ligament in his hand, which kept him out until the middle of January.
With the aging of the Big Three, Leonard is the best player on the Spurs' roster. It was evident how deep his impact runs when the team couldn't handle a strenuous December schedule without him. His skill set is so versatile, and he contributes in so many ways. His elite defense aside, he's a solid shooter from long-range. His post play is extremely efficient, and he has developed into a decent ball-handler. This season, he's even shown a lot of progress as a passer. But since his return from injury, his offensive production has had its peaks and valleys.
The Spurs have looked to him to initiate the offense for a stretch of possessions every game, letting the young wing take charge and find an offensive rhythm. Leonard has shown flashes of being able to do this, but for the most part, he's had difficulty adjusting to the responsibility. As his usage has gone up, Leonard's scoring numbers have come down. He has career lows in both FG% and 3PT%, and his 53% true shooting is only that high because of a higher free throw rate.
Getting Leonard acclimated to leading the offense is a crucial step in both his growth as a player, and the future of the franchise. For as long as they've been able to avoid age; Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker won't play basketball forever. When they are gone, it will be on Leonard to take control of the team on both ends of the floor. To do so on offense, he'll need to be comfortable getting to his preferred spots on the floor, as he'll be relied upon to get baskets when things break down on offense.
Although it's been a battle for him, there's reason to believe that giving Leonard more than he can handle right now will benefit him in the future. Coach Gregg Popovich has a recent history of giving young players a green light to do things that they aren't fully comfortable with, and letting them work through their issues.
Popovich has a reputation for a quick temper, and getting on players quickly for messing up. He does that for players that make mistakes when they know what they're doing, but his patience with developing players is what lets them grow into better players.
This patience and foresight is what gave Danny Green the freedom to dribble for the past couple seasons even though he made mistakes early. It's the reason that Cory Joseph has been allowed to play his game, siccing him on opposing guards, and letting him figure out his role on offense.
Leonard's poor performance against the Los Angeles Clippers was the low point of this season. But as Pop gives him time, he'll show how capable he is of progressing rapidly as a player into a star. Whether it happens in March, the playoffs, or even a couple seasons down the road; Kawhi Leonard will figure things out and take charge on the offensive end. When that happens, we will find out what San Antonio basketball will look like post-Duncan.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
Duncan on Hack-A-Jordan: "Unless it gets outlawed, it's part of basketball. When he starts shooting better, people will stop doing it."— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) February 20, 2015
The Spurs went hard on the Hack-A-Jordan strategy tonight, which turned out to be more than people were willing to take. Whether you approve of the use of this tactic or not, it is without a doubt one of the ugliest things to watch, and it slows the game down a ton. But, as Duncan said, it's a part of the game. It slowed the pace of the game when the Clippers were running well and getting buckets, and Jordan shot 10-28 from the charity stripe, which prevented the Clippers from scoring well.
MVP OF THE NIGHT
Tim Duncan - 30 points on 12-14 shooting, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 1-1 from 3PT
Duncan started off strong, going 4-5 early all on jumpers, and even hit a corner three. He was on all night, only missing 2 shots out of 14. He even had a couple of emphatic dunks, one on DeAndre Jordan, and the other on Matt Barnes. It was an odd night for seemingly everyone involved in the game, but Duncan made it work to his advantage.
NUMBERS ON THE BOARD
57.5: The Spurs' shooting percentage without Leonard's shots. Despite Kawhi's off night, the rest of the Spurs were rolling. They matched the Clippers shot for shot all the way to the end.
16: Assists for Chris Paul. He was magnificent tonight, dictating the Los Angeles offense wonderfully, making play after play to set people up for baskets. It was just another night for one of, if not the best point guard in the league.
1: Made shot for Kawhi Leonard. We've been over this. It was bad. Give him time. It will get better.
- Tony Parker played lights out. It's not clear how much the longer All-Star break had to do with it, but he looked rejuvenated. He moved quickly and with an energy that's been missing for stretches of the season. Parker scored well, but looked even better setting teammates up, recording 13 assists. It's just one game, but hopefully this is a sign that the Tony Parker we know and love is back.
- While San Antonio's offense was clicking, the defense was far from it. They couldn't keep up with the Clippers' offense all night, and the only time the Spurs were able to slow them down was when they used the Hack-A-Jordan tactic. Worst of all San Antonio gave up a bunch of open threes, including a back-breaking corner three from Jamal Crawford.
Leonard is 0 for 7 in 1Q, continuing a rough rodeo trip for him. Here's what Pop had to say about Kawhi pregame: pic.twitter.com/D37DcXF2gB— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) February 20, 2015
Spurs jack up about 24 3PT attempts a game. Already at 17 tonight.— Aaron Preine PS (@DukeOfBexar) February 20, 2015
Jeez. Crawford had time to check which way the air conditioner was blowing on that 3. Wonder if Spurs expecting Jordan to be hacked.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) February 20, 2015
DAJ just tried to dunk Tim Duncan into retirement.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) February 20, 2015
Now Tim Duncan has to go down and dunk on DAJ. That's how this works, right?— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) February 20, 2015
WITCHCRAFT! RT @poundingtherock: Now Tim Duncan has to go down and dunk on DAJ. That's how this works, right?— Harvey Mireles (@HarveyMireles) February 20, 2015
any play that you have to use replay technology to prove it's not a dunk is fine to refer to as a dunk— netw3rk (@netw3rk) February 20, 2015
Jordan now 9-24 at the FT after last make. Clips up 3.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneySAEN) February 20, 2015