If we know anything about Kawhi Leonard, it's that he certainly
won't vocalize that he's "back."
He had this to say two weeks ago after posting his first
30-point game since tearing his ACL in the 2021 Western Conference
"That's just how the game played out," Leonard said after that win
against the Wizards. "Was able to get to my spots, rose over the
top, knocked down some shots. When it's that time of the game when
you want to be as aggressive as possible, either you're gonna make
shots or pass it to your teammates and they make shots. Just want
to make a play."
Leonard details his psyche for the performance, but he's not
exactly trumpeting his totals, so let's do it for him.
Leonard's long, slow reintegration from his injury really took
until this past December for the weight to be fully lifted after he
dealt with recurring stiffness in his knee, plus an additonal right
ankle sprain. He played five games before Thanksgiving and never
cleared 25 minutes.
But Leonard has played over 27 minutes a night since returning
from the ankle injury on Dec. 5. He's averaging 20.7 points, 7.0
rebounds and 4.2 assists per game in that span.
On the season, the 21-18 Los Angeles Clippers are 11-5 when
Leonard makes an appearance. (He missed Monday's loss against Miami
due to an illness). They're outscoring opponents by a staggering
16.7 points per 100 possession when Leonard's on the floor — a
number that ranks in the 98th percentile among players this season,
per Cleaning the Glass.
LA's leading man is doing nearly everything we've come to expect
from one of the most well-rounded superstars of this generation:
Creating as a scorer, facilitating when necessary and anchoring an
The mid-range zone continues to be Leonard's home. He's taking
over half of his shot attempts in the intermediate areas, and is
currently drilling a career-best 52% of those attempts. The
31-year-old has also returned as a dominant isolation scorer in his
limited action this season. He gets those buckets in classic Kawhi
fashion — not with a viral handle or quick-twitch speed, but with
precision, strength and touch.
Check out how Leonard's faring among 69 players who have logged
40 or more possessions in isolation, per Synergy:
|Effective Field Goal
It's a relatively small sample, but then again, Leonard has only
played 16 games all year. He goes to iso plays 15.1% of the time (a
pretty high rate), and is succeeding as usual.
But Leonard is more than an iso scorer or mid-range maestro, and
his surgical approach to offense manifests as an attacking and
playmaking presence. He doesn't drive the ball that often — a
modest 9.1 times per game — and less than a quarter of his shots
come at the rim.
When Leonard does drive the basketball, he's tough to stop. He's
scoring on 56.5% of his driving field goal attempts this is season,
which is tied for 15th with Giannis Antetokounmpo, if that tells
you anything. He gets an assist on 10.3% of his drives and turns
the ball over just 2.7% of the time. The latter rate is the lowest
among 100 NBA players averaging six drives per game this
The Athletic's Mike Prada brilliantly illustrated how Leonard's
strength and processing speed make him a puzzle for opposing
I have more where that came from. Leonard dished out 7 assists
in his last contest, a narrow 131-130 loss to the Indiana Pacers.
Four of them were particularly remarkable:
In this game, we see:
- Quick recognition and feed to a cutting Paul George out of a
- A no-hesitation extra pass to a wide-open Reggie Jackson
- A spin out of a post-up into a baseline drive, and then, an
automatic kick-out to a drifting PG (this one's gotta be
particularly fun for Clippers fans)
- A face-up drive, engaging Myles Turner as the help defender,
and pass inside to an open Ivica Zubac
None of these dimes are all that flashy, nor are all of them
particularly mind-boggling. But they're further proof of Leonard's
unparalleled sense of timing. Nothing looks like a big deal to him
because, well, he just gets everything that's happening.
Of course, Leonard's reputation as one of the sport's all-time
defenders is well-established. But it's worth highlighting one more
time, because while he's not atop many steals leaderboards or
metric quantifiers, the veteran's impact remains just as pivotal.
The Clippers are 10.1 points stingier per 100 possessions when
Leonard takes the court, a 97th-percentile difference.
Here's one example where Leonard won't get credit for any
specifc action, but he mucks up a Boston Celtics drive with his
help from the nail. He's adept at covering just enough ground to
get a giant hand on the ball, but not overcommitting to a play and
losing control of his positioning.
At a time where superstar explosions are dominating NBA
headlines, Leonard continues to fly under the radar just by being
himself. He's still got more room for positive regression; his
ice-cold 27.4% three-point clip will almost certainly
We no longer need to wonder if Kawhi Leonard will ever make it
back to his old self, though. He's back and fully capable of
leading the Clippers in a frenetic Western Conference.