Kawhi Leonard’s Return: San Antonio Santa’s Greatest Gift
The 2017 Western Conference Finals were beautiful, and then ugly. Kawhi Leonard, sheriff of the San Antonio Spurs and superstar of the NBA, went down on a controversial play with a controversial player. Leonard went up for a shot and came down on the foot of Zaza Pachulia and was removed from the game and series, thus ending the Spurs playoff run. Since then the talk has been redemption.
Now that he has returned (in limited minutes) it’s important to remember what’s really coming back to the league. Kawhi averaged 25 points a game last season. That’s a big chunk of points to add to the final score of every Spurs game, and under Gregg Popovich, these Spurs can really do some damage. Who else could’ve had the 8-0 playoff Warriors down by almost 20 points in the Oracle Arena? Coming off what was looking like a career year, “the Klaw” is likely looking to get back on his rudely interrupted warpath.
Kawhi and defense go claw in claw. Leonard is 6’7”, 230 lbs, not easily be moved, and the Defensive Player of the Year for two of the past three years. DPOY is typically won by big men for their blocks and rim protection, but Kawhi Leonard broke a streak of 10 straight centers winning by getting awarded DPOY in 2014-15 — solidifying himself as one of the league’s premier defensive forces. His defense looks stifling courtside, but advanced analytics tell an even more pronounced tale of shot-contesting and player-smothering domination. He smothers the league’s top ball handlers and point guards with ease. He personally embodies the current defense of the Celtics or Golden State all by himself as a lanky, versatile player that communicates on defense and is able to switch onto most opposing players.
With Leonard back, San Antonio can once again be viewed as a top team in the Western Conference. With the emergence of Houston and Oklahoma City as potential Golden State stoppers, the Spurs have been forgotten these past few months. With their superstar’s return they should now firmly fit into NBA top 5 discussions as opposed to hovering around the top 15. With all their pieces back and healthy, they are just as capable as the rest of these teams to challenge the defending champions — with potential to continue the upset they were mounting last season.
Arguably the best two-way player in basketball is back in the league with an organization that can make a deep playoff run. For now, it seems he’s off to a slow start but he’s only playing limited minutes to get back into the swing of things. He’s only played five games and is easing back into things while playing about 19 minutes per game. Still, he’s averaging around 13 points and 4 rebounds while shooting about 50 percent from the field. Just wait until he’s back playing full games. We will soon be back to arguing whether or not “Kawhi can score buckets on Kawhi” in no time!