Predicting Spurs' Kawhi Leonard's Development in 2013-2014
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In the seven Finals games, Leonard notched four double-doubles, while also doing a great job defending LeBron James, the best player in the world right now.
For a bit of a reference point, according to Leonard's game log on ESPN, he didn't register a single double-double until his 29th game of the regular season.
Where can Leonard realistically improve in 2013-2014 after a great playoff run, and Finals series? Let's look at how he can (and will) develop his game in many areas on both offense and defense to take some of the pressure of the Spurs' aging stars.
This may be the area where Leonard has improved the most since college.
Leonard used to shoot the ball catapult-style in college, bringing the ball so far back that it almost scrapes the top of his head. The results were not great—Leonard shot 25 percent from three-point range in college.
Notice the two plays starting at 1:44 in the video below, a pull-up three pointer and a mid-range jump shot. If you pause the video during his shots, you will notice the catapult motion.
Now, the following video is Leonard's game-winner against the Cavaliers during the 2012-2013 regular season. Leonard's release is now much quicker, because he doesn't bend his elbow as far back. The ball stays in front of his face during the shooting process.
The new release has worked for Leonard, who has averaged over 37 percent from three in each of his two seasons in the league.
There is no reason to expect anything different from Leonard this year. His huge hands could put a ceiling on how good of a shooter he can become, because creating backspin and a soft touch is more difficult with bigger hands.
But we can expect similar or slightly better efficiency from Leonard this year, considering he shot 39 percent from deep in the playoffs.
Prediction: Leonard shoots 38 percent on three-pointers, on 1.5 makes per game
Ball-Handling and Playmaking
Leonard is an efficient, albeit unspectacular, ball-handler.
Despite logging nearly 37 minutes per game in the playoffs, he only turned the ball over just 1.1 times per game. With that, however, came only one assist per game.
It's not that he is selfish—rather, he just seems to be in a great opportunity to score nearly every time he gets the ball. Rarely do you see Leonard just dribbling on the wing or running the pick-and-roll with a big man.
When he does get an opportunity to find a teammate for a good shot (like an inbounds play, for example), he makes the most of it.
In terms of dribble driving, Leonard is decisive, but hasn't mastered creativity yet. When he starts to drive, he is usually going to go that same way to the basket. He doesn't use hesitation or change-of-direction moves hardly at all.
Notice his decisiveness in the plays starting at 0:12 and 0:27 in the following video footage from Game 7 of the Finals:
Because of this decisiveness and his leaping and running ability, he will remain a great threat in transition as well.
In 2013-2014, look for him to get more plays called for him by Gregg Popovich. Leonard will start to develop more creativity with his dribbling and passing, but with the Big Three still on the Spurs, he won't be handling the ball too much.
Prediction: Leonard averages 2.2 assists and 1.5 turnovers per game
The game that comes to mind when considering Leonard's mid-range prowess is the regular-season game in Chicago last year.
Without the Big Three, Leonard led the Spurs to a blowout win by scoring 26 points. Six of his field goals were mid-range jump shots, as you can see in the below video.
However, according to Vorped, Leonard only attempted two of these shots per game during the regular season. Considering he made over 48 percent of those attempts, that amount is not enough.
I predict that Leonard will focus on honing this skill the most over the summer. When the Big Three were in the lineup, he was usually hitting open threes, getting passes on cuts to the basket or scoring on put-backs.
Leonard will also be working for hours on his free-throw shooting, to be sure. After shooting 82.5 percent from the line in the regular season, Leonard only shot 63.3 percent in the playoffs. That will have to improve. And with Leonard's normally reliable shooting touch, it will.
Since Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are all on the wrong side of 31 and getting older, Leonard will be asked to carry more of the scoring load in 2013-2014, and create his own shots when the three are resting.
Prediction: Leonard attempts over three mid-range jump shots per game, while keeping his success rate around 48 percent. He also shoots 79 percent from the line.
During the regular season last year, Leonard was a solid rebounder, but nothing special. He grabbed 6.0 per game in the regular season, 1.1 of which came on the offensive end.
The playoffs were a different story. Leonard snatched 9.0 rebounds per game (albeit with over five minutes of extra playing time), 2.4 of which where offensive. This is a small forward in his second season playing against playoff competition, folks.
The cynic in me, though, feels the need to point out the fact that the Spurs were playing Leonard at power forward for much of the Finals. His 11.1 rebounds per game average in the Finals is impressive for a 6'7" player at any position, though.
Don't be surprised if Leonard replicates his playoff rebounding numbers in 2013-2014. The NBA's shift to more small-ball coupled with lots of playing time for Leonard will certainly help Leonard get close.
Prediction: Leonard averages 8.4 rebounds per game
This was the one part of Leonard's game that scouts knew would translate to the NBA. It has.
Although rebounding may be a close second, Leonard's defensive playmaking is still his best quality as a basketball player.
If you start watching the following video at 1:23, there is a short segment that showcases some of Leonard's abilities on defense. Watching all of it wouldn't be a bad idea, either. It gives a great picture of who Leonard is as a player and how he fits in with the Spurs.
Despite playing in just 58 games last year, Leonard received one NBA coach's vote for the All-Defensive First Team, according to NBA.com. If he plays a fully healthy season in 2013-2014, it's not a stretch to think that he might make one of the two teams.
Going toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant and LeBron James for two consecutive years in the playoffs will only give the young Leonard confidence going forward.
Prediction: Leonard averages 2.0 steals and 0.9 blocks per game
When will Kawhi Leonard become an All-Star?
Leonard will have a whole summer to rest after suffering from "jumper's knee" during the latter half of last season. According to the Spurs Nation blog, rehabbing the knee is the reason that Leonard will skip a Team USA training camp that starts on July 21.
When he comes back, I expect a rejuvenated, motivated Leonard that will show the rest of the NBA that he can be a franchise cornerstone for the Spurs after the Big Three is gone.
Predictions for overall stat line in 2013-2014:
35.3 minutes per game, 15.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.9 blocks, 2.0 steals, 1.5 turnovers, 51 percent on field goals, 38 percent on three pointers, 79 percent from the line, 18.7 Player Efficiency Rating (PER).
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