Kawhi Leonard: Back and better than ever

After a month hiatus with a broken hand, Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard is proving he’s ready to step up and produce for another deep playoff run.

San Antonio has been plagued by injuries off and on all season, and once Leonard went down, an interesting stretch of lineup roulette began.  The combination of injuries and rest to the major pieces of the core Spurs team yielded some impressive results, namely an emergence of Patty Mills as another go-to option on an already deep list of clutch performers.

While this time was necessary for getting everyone healthy and ready for the much-anticipated late season run, the reappearance of Leonard has proven to begin coach Popovich’s annual period of perfecting the team’s performance.

Kawhi Leonard has taken the injury and rehabilitation process all in stride, even picking up his play since returning.  The stone-faced forward has proven over the last four games that his taped and protected hand is not only of no hinderance whatsoever, but also that the month’s rest has done nothing but rejuvenate his essential role to the team.

In his four games back, Leonard is averaging 15.25 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.25 assists, all improvements on his season average.

In typical Spurs fashion, this marginal increase in production is due to the classic Spurs game plan to get shots at and around the basket, as well as kick-outs for open threes.  These are the most efficient places to score from on the floor, making the pick and roll/pop oriented offense of San Antonio one of the most efficient in the league.  Based on Leonard’s shot chart for these last four games, this is where he thrives as an offensive presence.

Midrange jumpers are typically the least desirable shots in the NBA, so it’s a good thing that Leonard isn’t particularly good at them. His 15-foot jumper seems to be a little broken, but no need to fix it at this point in the season.

Shotchart_1393988839110

Not only has he shown improvement in all statistical categories, but Leonard has done it all incredibly efficiently as well.  He is shooting just at 60% from both inside and outside the arc, contributing an average +/- rating of 12.25 on all four wins since returning to the lineup.

[San Antonio Spurs back at full health]

Kawhi Leonard’s increased performance isn’t just impressive, it’s crucial. Leonard proved to be a key X-factor in last year’s Finals, providing a much needed presence on the boards as well as the defensive end when guarding both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.  With a much deeper Western Conference this season, the Spurs will no doubt need a repeat performance if they plan on contending with the youthful West.

With Kawhi Leonard firing on all cylinders on a surging and healthy Spurs team, there’s no reason to write off any possibility of yet another deep playoff run.

 

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