Coming into the 2016-17 season, Kawhi Leonard had scored 30 points in a game just seven times. Leonard has already reached that mark nine times through 38 games this season, including last night’s stellar performance in a loss to Milwaukee.
Leonard scoring so much so often is impressive, but what’s truly impressive is how he goes about scoring those points. Leonard has developed into one of the most complete and well rounded scorers in the entire league, and the tape shows just how many ways he can beat a defense.
10/25/16 @ GSW: 35 points (0/3 3pt, 15/15 FT), 5 rebounds, 5 steals
In the offseason Kawhi added new skills to his game, most notably running the pick and roll and getting to the free throw line. Leonard studied film of James Harden and LeBron James to see how they drew contact when defenders are out of position, and he used the season opener in Oakland to showcase what he learned over the summer.
Leonard he got to the line 15 times and nailed every shot en route to a career-high 35 points. He attacked the basket in the absence of a great rim protector, knocked down mid-range jumpers, and dropped dimes to teammates in an old school performance with no made threes. He chased down his own miss and put it back in multiple times, and he stole the ball from Stephen Curry and turned it into a hammer dunk. This remains Leonard’s career high.
10/27/16 @ SAC: 30 points (1/5 3pt, 7/7 FT), 5 assists, 5 steals
In the second game of the year, Leonard continued to dominate without getting much from his three-point shot. Even on a night when the three ball isn’t falling, it helps that Leonard has the shot in his arsenal because defenders have to respect him at the arc. This opens up opportunities to drive off the catch or attack with a rocker step, and he took it to Rudy Gay all night.
Early in the game, not much was working for the Spurs offense except for Leonard’s penetration. He scored on a variety of mid-range looks and driving shots, and when he drew multiple defenders he kicked it out to his open teammates.
The Kings actually led in this game into the third quarter, but the Spurs took the lead after Kawhi ripped the ball from Ben McLemore’s arms and took it coast to coast on consecutive possessions. This was part of a 22-5 run in which Leonard turned defense into offense multiple times, and firmly took control of the game.
11/01/16 vs. UTA: 30 points (5/7 3pt, 5/5 FT), 7 rebounds, 2 assists
This was another game where Kawhi was the only part of the offense functioning at a high level. Early on he looked comfortable in isolation, and in a rare move for a Spur he grabbed a rebound, pushed the ball in semi-transition and banged home a pull up three. He was in the zone, and everyone else was out of whack.
He put on a catch-and-shoot clinic, hitting four such shots from beyond the arc. He took on the entire Utah defense by himself, sometimes with a decent amount of success, but he did not get to the free throw line much in this game.
The Spurs lost this game because the Jazz shot the lights out, hitting 15 shots from downtown. Leonard was 5/7 from three, but his teammates were 1/13. LaMarcus Aldridge chipped in 21, but he was the only other Spur in double figures. George Hill, who was famously traded for Leonard, balled out in the fourth quarter, and the San Antonio players agreed afterwards that defensive effort was an issue.
11/09/16 vs. HOU: 34 points (4/6 3pt, 8/8 FT), 7 rebounds, 2 assists
Once again, the rest of the Spurs got out to a slow start in this game and Kawhi pulled them back into it. He was very effective from long range including a contested 28 foot pull-up at the end of the shot clock, and he showed off a driving floater that allowed him to split perimeter defenders and get the shot up over the rim protector.
On the final play of the third quarter, Coach Popovich told everyone to just get out of the way and let Kawhi go to work. He crossed Ariza over and hit a step back jumper at the elbow. Pop again told everyone to make way with a chance to tie on the final possession. Leonard drove all the way to the basket and went for the layup, but it hit the rim. Nene jumped through him to contest the shot, but no foul was called.
11/23/16 @ CHA: 30 points (2/7 3pt, 0/1 FT), 5 rebounds, 5 assists
This was another old school performance from Leonard. He was off from three and barely even got to the line, but he did a lot of damage in the paint. He operated effectively with his back to the basket even against bigger defenders, often drawing double teams and kicking it out to the arc for an open 3.
He can take it to the rack in a few quick steps or stop and pop a jumper at any moment, and that proved difficult for the Hornets to defend. Near the end of a close one, it was Leonard’s trust in his teammates that wound up icing the game away. He saw Danny Green get loose off a pin down screen and hit him with a one handed pass, and Danny banged home the dagger 3.
12/06/16 @ MIN: 31 points (2/3 3 pt, 7/8 FT), 4 assists, 2 steals
Everyone in silver and black started this game slow, but Kawhi got it going in the second quarter. He drove deep into the paint early and aggressively looked for his shot, and finished in the post with his left claw at one point. As the game progressed he began to hit mid-range jumpers on catch and shoot looks, pull-ups, and even a turn around out of a post up.
In the fourth quarter, Kawhi pulled Karl Anthony Towns out of the paint and drilled a 3 in his eyehole. Later, he received a pass well beyond the arc with a second left on the shot clock and somehow buried the contested look.
12/10/16 vs. BKN: 30 points (4/7 3pt, 6/6 FT), 7 rebounds, 3 assists
Everything was working for Leonard in this one, as he put up 30 points on 10/18 shooting in just three quarters of work. There’s really not much to analyze about this one except that the Nets are very bad and Kawhi Leonard is very good.
12/23/16 @ POR: 33 points (5/7 3pt, 10/10 FT), 3 rebounds
This was another catch and shoot clinic, as Leonard tied his season high of 5 made threes. He drew fouls on jump shots, he dunked on folks, and he capped the game off with a Kobe-esque fadeaway. This was on a night when LaMarcus Aldridge was frequently doubled by his former team, and Leonard stepped up and took advantage of the holes in the defense in the blowout win.
1/10/17 vs. MIL: 30 points (2/3 3pt, 8/10 FT), 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals
Kawhi was feeling his 3 point stroke last night, draining a few contested looks and even getting a four point play in the first half. He even closed the first half by banking in a half court shot, even though it was a tenth of a second after the buzzer.
It didn't count but Kawhi Leonard is feelin himself tonightpic.twitter.com/NAWuGasWa6
— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) January 11, 2017
He hit pull up jumpers from any range, he got free on a cut for a monster dunk, and made it look like he was playing on a nerf hoop when he hit a hook shot while being fouled. Down the stretch in a close one, Kawhi kept passing to Danny Green for open threes, and Danny kept missing until he finally hit one.
The Spurs trailed by two on the last possession, and Kawhi drove drawing multiple defenders before slinging it out to a wide open Manu Ginobili in the corner for the win, but the shot hit the top of the backboard. Manu said after the game that it was a terrible shot.
Some will say that Kawhi should have put up the contested shot in the paint, but the Spurs players agreed that it should not have come to that. The defensive effort was lacking, and they lost focus at the tail end of both halves.
Leonard has dropped 30 in a loss three times this year. Strangely enough all three were at home, and he recorded 7 rebounds but just 2 assists in all three contests. He has dropped 30 in close wins and in blowouts, at home and on the road, with 3 pointers and mid-range jumpers and dunks and post ups and free throws. That’s just what he does now.