The San Antonio Spurs have gone away from the defensive, shutdown philosophy that made them so successful in the past. It’s not a huge problem because they’ve improved the offense as well and can still win by outscoring their opponents, but on the year, the Spurs are giving up 97 points per game.
One reason the Spurs could be giving up so many points is the fact that Kawhi Leonard, probably their best perimeter defender, has been out since mid-November. Since Leonard’s return last Friday, the Spurs haven’t reached their season average in points allowed, giving up 94 points against the Hornets, 91 against the Mavericks and just 80 against the Raptors.
It could just be the quality of the competition, but Leonard has surely provided a defensive spark, recording 10 steals in just three games (with reduced minutes). That’s 3.3 steals per game and to put that in perspective, the league leader in steals is Chris Paul, who averages 2.71 per game.
His teammates have surely noticed the effect Leonard has on the defense. Both Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were singing his praises after the game against Toronto.
"Kawhi is creating a lot of turnovers himself,” said Duncan. “He's getting a lot of steals and turning that into offense. It's a big thing we've been missing the last couple of weeks with him gone. It's great to have that back. It's great to see him get those steals again and make it into something."
"Huge for us,” Ginobili said. “First of all, because he is one of the only true small forwards we've got with size and strength to guard big opponents. With his length and ability to read situations, he can get a lot of deflections and steals that give you a good lift in some parts of the game."
Keep an eye on the Spurs’ defensive numbers as Leonard continues to log more minutes, especially their overall points allowed. His contribution to the team will become even more apparent as the season rolls on.