Kawhi Leonard quietly looking like a superstar again: How The Claw is helping Clippers reach full potential

Take everything that you’ve heard about Kawhi Leonard — that he’s washed, that he can’t stay healthy and that the Clippers can’t win with him anymore. Then compare it to the cold, hard facts of this season. 

Leonard hasn’t missed a game all year. He’s in the top 15 in minutes played for the entire league. He’s exceeded his career averages almost across the board, averaging 23.3 points per game on 50.3 percent shooting from the field and 42.1 percent from 3. And the Clippers are riding a five-game winning streak to take their record up to 13-10 after blowing out the Kings on Tuesday. 

Given the spate of injuries that have devastated Leonard’s career for years now, it’s fair to be skeptical of how long this lasts. But he’s looking like a top-10 player once again and his play is trending upward.

Against the Jazz, he scored a season-high 41 points on 60.9 percent shooting. He then put up 34 points against the Trail Blazers and scored 31 on Tuesday while making an incredible 11 of 14 shot attempts.

It’s time to start paying attention again to how good Leonard is because the Claw is climbing right back up to the top of the NBA’s elite. 

MORE: Three ways the Warriors can save their season

Kawhi Leonard is still an A+ bucket-getter

When his team needs a big bucket, Leonard is still one of the better isolation players in the league, ranking in the 79th percentile.

There may not be a better player in the league at bullying his way into his spots. If there is a weaker defender on him, he’s backing down to the elbow and hitting a fadeaway or breaking out his bag to get to the rim every time. 

These types of buckets become way more valuable in the playoffs. Leonard proved that the last time he was healthy, leading the entire league with 34.5 points per game on 54.5 percent shooting during the most recent postseason. When the stakes matter, he’s still one of the best closers in the league. 

Kawhi Leonard has taken a step back on defense but can still lock in when needed

The lockdown consistency that led Leonard to two Defensive Player of the Year awards and seven All-Defensive selections isn’t quite there anymore, but when he does give full effort, he is still a game-changer on that end of the floor. 

Leonard can still fly in from the weak side and swat the ball loose. His screen navigation remains excellent. Don’t try to put up soft layups around him, because he will swat them into the stands. Perhaps he shouldn’t, but he’s willing to put his body on the line, leading the Clippers in charges drawn.

The Claw has already had some game-saving defensive plays, including a big stop against Kris Dunn in a win against the Jazz and lock-down defense on Stephen Curry against the Warriors. 

Off-ball Kawhi Leonard is a menace

With the addition of James Harden, Leonard is playing off the ball more than ever. That shift has kept his shooting percentages sky-high. He’s never gotten set up for as many easy buckets as this year. 

Kawhi Leonard’s assisted baskets (NBA Stats)
Season % of assisted shots
2019-20 36.3
2020-21 37.8
2021-22 DNP
2022-23 40.6
2023-24 52.8

After a rough start, Harden and Leonard have started to find some good chemistry. No other Clipper has passed more to him, and Harden has been great at finding him one pass away for 3s

Leonard has been incredible on those catch-and-shoot 3s, hitting 48.4 percent of them. His touch has been outstanding. He’s breaking shots out of his bag that haven’t been seen before, including a floater 3-pointer

Leonard has also been ludicrous as a cutter, shooting 90.9 percent on those play types. There isn’t a better player in the league at converting off cuts right now. 

WATCH: Follow Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers all season long on Sling TV

The Clippers are really good with Kawhi Leonard

Tyronn Lue told Substack’s Justin Russo that playing Leonard and Paul George this many minutes early on has allowed the Clippers to “win games” compared to past years.

After a period in which the Clippers needed to get acclimated, that has proven true. 

Since moving Russell Westbrook to the bench, the Clippers’ 10-3 record is behind only the Magic. They have a sterling 7.4 net rating, which translates to the play of a 61-win team

Leonard has been unquestionably their best player during that stretch. He’s become a rock for the team and the same player that was good enough to win multiple rings in the past.

The league better take note because, for the time being, the Claw is back. 

Source : ESPN.com

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