The LA Clippers are 7-2 when Kawhi Leonard is starting. Though he is not at the peak of his powers yet, he is slowly getting there. He is still on a minutes restriction of around 30 per game, but he is making the most of it. Mainly his playmaking, rebounding, and the attention he garners from defenses. His jumper has not returned yet, but it has shown positive signs of progression. With the new injuries to Norman Powell, Reggie Jackson, Paul George, and Ivica Zubac, the Clippers need all they can get from their superstar.
Kawhi Leonard Is Slowly Returning to Form
The western conference is as open as it has been with multiple teams within three games of each other. Luckily for the Clippers, they are right in the mix. Given the injuries that keep piling up, the team must stay afloat until the full squad returns. After nearly having the entire team (minus Powell) back, the injury bug hit again. Before their December 15th bout against the Phoenix Suns, the Clippers saw a season-high of injuries. This includes George, Jackson, Powell, Zubac, Luke Kennard, and Leonard. While Leonard’s is more of an injury management due to a back-to-back, the others are concerning.
Ty Lue mentioned that “guys are banged up” in his pregame presser. So the question is whether these are rest games or Clipper fans should be worried. The one positive note is that Leonard’s is not due to injury. So he should be fine to play the next game.
Leonard has had a windy road to recovery since the season started. He came off the bench, then was out for a bit with knee tightness. Followed by an ankle sprain. But now he is back, and he looks more comfortable.
The win against the Boston Celtics was perhaps the best sign of things to come for Leonard. He finished with 25 points, nine rebounds, and six assists. All on 10/12 shooting and a +23 on the floor. It wasn’t just the numbers and efficiency that was impressive, but how he orchestrated the game. His first assist to Jackson was a sign of his improved playmaking and feel. He kept his defender worried about his scoring with a multitude of fakes. Eventually forcing him out of position caused Jackson’s defender to slide over. He then faked his defender and found a wide-open Jackson for a corner three.
It was not just the assists, but the mid-range work as well. When Leonard caught the ball in the post, he surveyed the defense as he made each move. Dictating how they will react to his decision. And when it came to scoring, he faded, rose up, or found a different way to get the ball in the hoop.
In a game where some expected him to be the worst of the four star wings, he was the best. In the next game against Minnesota, he did not have the same efficiency. Though he did drop 19 points and eight rebounds. But change doesn’t happen overnight. Leonard clearly wants to play to get more reps. But they are trusting the medical staff with his recovery and he is making the most out of his limited time.