The Maturation of Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard is entering his fifth year in the NBA, and is fresh off of signing a max contract. Over that time, his game has matured in ways no one could even have imagined and it’s still growing.

When the Spurs traded one of Coach Popovich’s favorite players George Hill to Indiana for the fifteenth pick in the 2011 draft to get Leonard, he was a lockdown defender. Every year Leonard has been in the NBA, his game has grown and evolved.

  • Over 2 years At San Diego State University, Leonard shot 25% from three. Since he’s entered the league he’s never shot below 34.9% from behind the arc and shooting 50% so far this season.
  • He took his points per game from 7.9 to 21.6.
  • His rebounds per game have improved with each year 5.1 to 7.6.

Every year he has been asked to do more for the Spurs. He’s now their number one option on offense in addition to defending the other team’s best perimeter player.

As his game has matured, teams have begun to game plan for him. This year he is seeing more double teams when he is able to post up his 6-7, 230 pound frame. This is the next step of the maturation process. In the video below he does a great job of accepting the double the team, he does not panic, and calmly makes a quick decision to pass out of it.

The Spurs post him up on the right block. He waits as Diaw, the passer cuts down the middle, taking his defender with him. Just as he does that, Mills slides over from the weakside free throw line extended to fill the void left by Diaw and creating a more balanced and spaced floor.

With Mills parked just at the top of the three-point arc, Butler occupies Mill’s now vacant free throw line extended spot. Mills’ defender watches Leonard as he backs down his defender. On the second dribble Mills’ defender comes to double team Leonard.

KL Pass out of double teamThis has a domino effect for the defense and everyone must be ready to rotate. Once Leonard recognizes that the double team is coming, he waits patiently. He invites the second defender to come closer. As soon as the defender arrives and is not in a good position to recover to Mills, Leonard fires the ball to him.

As a defender is rotating to Mills, he immediately sends the ball off to a wide-open Butler.

Mills to Butler
Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 9.59.21 PM

By the time the next rotating player arrives to Butler it’s too late. He’s already in his full shooting motion and that’s three points for the Spurs.

Leonard doesn’t get credited for the assist on this play but it is the pass that leads to the assist, a hockey assist. If he is able to handle double teams as calmly and with such accuracy as he handled this one, it’ll make teams have to rethink their game plan against him and the Spurs.

This is just another step the maturation process of Kawhi Leonard. Already a winner of the defensive player of the year award, appearances on the all NBA defensive first and second team, an NBA champion, and a finals MVP, oh and he’s only 24 years old.

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