How Kawhi Leonard Unlocks the Clippers Roster…When He’s Healthy

Kawhi Leonard out

We all know Kawhi Leonard is the heart and soul of the LA Clippers. Without him they were 7-6 and before he made his return against the Pistons last Friday, his side had the worst offense in the league. Now, with the news he is out once again with an ankle injury, the Clippers may struggle once more for a period without him.

For the three games Leonard has played, their offensive rating is 115.5 and on defense it is 103.8. To put that into perspective, for the 13 games Leonard didn’t play this season, their offensive rating was 108.4 and defensive was 109.9 – so you can see his impact is immediate. It also isn’t a coincidence they have won their last three games and are ranked second in the league defensively.

He’s quick to distribute the ball which keeps the offense flowing. Players are doubling Leonard when he gets the ball, and he’s making the right passes boasting a 3.4:1 assist to turnover ratio.

Now, LA do have a roster full of wing shooters and players like Paul George, Reggie Jackson and John Wall who attack a defense in rotation. As for players who can break down a defense on their own, they’re lacking but with Leonard, he is as wise as Yoda when it comes to making the right read.

The 31-year-old is on a minutes restriction since returning from managing his ACL post-surgery and is taking less shots from the field, which has allowed him to lock in on the defensive end like we haven’t seen in a long time. This was evident in his defense on Bojan Bogdanović in his return game and on Lauri Markkenen against the Jazz on Tuesday as they seemed to attack less when Leonard was guarding them.

It seems like playing less minutes suits Leonard as he is not overdoing it and trying to do as much as he can in 35 minutes but rather taking better shots and playing what he sees defensively, without necessarily filling up the box score.

“I just try to control what I can and just playing the best I can in those six minute stints and it’s been working. We’re winning games so,” Leonard said after the Jazz game on Tuesday.

“It’s going to be a long journey,” the five-time All-Star told Mark Medina after the Pistons game. “They say recovery isn’t just one year. Everybody thinks that. But it’s a two-year process.”

Leonard sat out the whole 2021-22 campaign because of his ACL injury and missed nearly another whole month due to stiffness in the joint following his return on October 24.

During the 2020-21 season, the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting 51.2 percent from the field, while ranking eighth in the league for player efficiency rating.