Mid-Season Form: Kawhi Leonard's Most Complete Game Yet

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Kawhi Leonard might have put together the most complete performance of his career on Tuesday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He notched 34 points on 12/17 shooting, pulled down seven rebounds and dropped five dimes, all while limiting 2014 Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins to just 10 points.

If someone asks what Leonard does well, “everything” would be an appropriate response. His highlight reel from this game is evidence of that, showing his dominant scoring ability in nearly every possible scenario. From drives to post-ups to mid-range jumpers to three pointers to free throws, everything worked for him.

Kawhi has grown into a top tier scorer in the pick and roll, and he put his skills on display against the Timberwolves. He used screens to get to the rim, and if Wiggins or Karl-Anthony Towns managed to stay in front of him he would pull up for mid-range jumpers or kick out to wide open teammates.

On one occasion, Kawhi got switched onto a center in a pick-and-roll and elected to pull up for a jumper over him. The shot went in, but it wasn’t the fundamentally correct decision. Ideally Leonard would have tried to drive past the big man rather than shoot over his long arms.

For some great players, making the right basketball play isn’t always necessary. Steph Curry is one of the only players that can chuck up a 28 foot shot three seconds into the shot clock because he’s so skilled that his brash decisions are rewarded. Leonard has reached a mastery of the post and mid-range game where he can go full “Mamba” and shoot his shot without a care in the world for what the defense is doing.

This becomes very apparent on isolation plays where Leonard imposes his will on the defense. Andrew Wiggins is a tall defender with long arms, and Kawhi beat him in every way imaginable. He sized the young gun up with a pump fake and drilled a jumper in his face. He bullied him in the post and executed a jump hook that looked staggered and almost slow motion.

Leonard got free from beyond the arc and Wiggins fouled him for a four point play, giving San Antonio the lead late in the third quarter. Kawhi also busted out his patented steal and slam on Minnesota’s young star, a perfect summation of a matchup where Leonard scored 34 and limited Wiggins to just 10.

 

Sean Elliot observed during the broadcast that Leonard is faster with the ball in his hands than most players are without the ball, which makes his transition breaks electric. Here he pulled down the rebound and saw that he could beat every rim protector down the floor, so he did just that and slammed it home with authority.

Leonard is now known as an elite scorer, and rightly so, but his passing ability is underrated. He had 5 assists in this contest, but his skill as a passer is not reflected in his overall statistics. At one point he drove the lane, jumped and faced the left corner, and threw a no look bounce pass to the right corner. Aldridge made an extra pass to Manu for an open 3 giving Kawhi a hockey assist.

The long arms and large klaws attached to them allow Leonard to control the ball and find passing lanes over or around defenders that other players simply can’t reach. This play looks simple enough, but he uses every bit of one-handed ball control and wingspan to zip the bounce pass to exactly the right spot.

Kawhi is one of the most well rounded players in the NBA, and he showcased every bit of his ever-growing skill set in his most complete performance of the year, arguably his career. He scored at the rim, from the three point line, and everywhere in between. His defense was superb as always, and his passing was exquisite.

This was Leonard’s fourth straight game with 30 points, and his 12th such performance in the first half of the season. This output is up there with some of the best individual seasons in Spurs history, partially because of his own excellence and partially because it is rare for a player to score this much on a team so focused on group success.

With 41 games down and 41 to go, this San Antonio team is still working out the kinks and seeing how all of the new pieces fit together. Their cornerstone in Leonard seems to be hitting his stride and reaching a new level of productivity, and the players around him are developing better chemistry every day the season progresses. That spells danger for the Warriors, Rockets and Cavaliers as the postseason approaches.

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