Should Kawhi Leonard Be the No. 2 Option on San Antonio Spurs Offense Now?
Leonard is best known for being a lockdown defender—perhaps most notably due to LeBron James' fantastic reaction upon seeing the Spurs third-year starter check back into the game—but Leonard can score in a variety of ways.
Though Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have headlined San Antonio's scoring production for a decade, the baton will soon be passed.
But is Leonard prepared to take over additional responsibilities as the Spurs' No. 2 option right now?
What He Does Well
Kawhi Leonard does not get enough credit for his ability to attack the basket during fast-break situations.
Plus, the accompanying videos show Leonard's prowess in transition—opportunities that simply cannot be wasted in any game.
Kendrick Perkins scrambles to deter an easy two points, and while the OKC big man is not expected to stop the fastbreak in this situation, Leonard makes one move to rid himself of the defender.
Danny Green assists Leonard by interfering with Thabo Sefolosha, leaving Leonard a clear path to the rim. What's most impressive, though, is how Leonard switches to his left hand for the dunk, so the trailing Perkins has absolutely no chance to swipe at the ball.
Leonard creates offense for San Antonio with his stellar defensive play and is not afraid to lead the break.
This time, Leonard takes a flip-pass from Tim Duncan and locates his teammate—Danny Green—and the Portland Trail Blazers' defender—Nicolas Batum. Leonard and Green could use a touch-pass or two to create an open layup, but instead, Leonard attacks Batum and slams it home with authority.
Take a minute and let that dunk soak in.
Go on, I'll wait.
Now that your jaw is restored to its proper upright position, it's easy to see that Leonard thrives during fast-break situations.
Leonard did not tentatively direct the two-on-one. He flat-out attacked both the defender and the rim. Batum had no interest in contesting the monster dunk since Leonard came at him "with no regard for human life."
Second only to Parker's nifty passing ability, Leonard is the Spurs' most dangerous weapon on the fastbreak.
What He Needs to Improve
Leonard is a respectable three-point shooter, but he must develop a more consistent long-distance shot.
As seen in the accompanying graph, approximately 75 percent of Leonard's made three-pointers came from the corners, and he only connected on about 25 percent of his attempts from wing to wing.
Note: The shot data—via Basketball-Reference—is from the 2012-13 regular season, and Leonard made 65-of-174 (37.4 percent) three-point shots.
So, Leonard must either cut down on non-corner threes or work on extending his shooting range. But if Leonard evolves as a threat near the lane, he will be San Antonio's next great offensive weapon.
Against the Chicago Bulls last season, Leonard showed flashes of just that. He beat the Chicago Bulls' top defender Luol Deng in a variety of ways, by posting up and creating space off the dribble. Leonard also drove the lane on Taj Gibson multiple times, finishing strong at the rim.
So, is this a "pick one or the other, you can't have both" scenario? Or, can Leonard become an inside-outside scorer for the Spurs?
Though Leonard can continue working on his outside shot to be more reliable from the wings, a concentration on his post game would be most beneficial to San Antonio.
As the NBA evolves into a shooter-heavy league, Leonard's physical presence would define a clear advantage over a majority of "power forwards" in small lineups. A five-man group of Duncan, Leonard, Ginobili, Green and Parker would counteract the opposition's speed without surrendering too much post presence.
But that's not to say Leonard cannot do both; the 22-year-old has plenty of time to improve both parts of his game.
Number 2 Option?
Leonard is clearly one of the Spurs' most talented players running in transition.
But in San Antonio's half-court offense, where does Leonard fall on the scoring depth chart? Without question, Tony Parker will remain the Spurs' biggest offensive weapon.
Of course, the ageless Tim Duncan is next on the list, and let's not jump the gun on this one.
Although Leonard is becoming a fantastic player in the San Antonio organization, he hasn't surpassed Parker or Duncan in this category.
Last season, when Leonard nailed a three-pointer to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, the small forward showed he was capable of hitting a clutch shot. Moving forward, as defenders lock onto the Spurs' leading scorers, Leonard can leak into a vacated spot on the floor and take an open shot.
But through 123 career games as of this writing, Leonard has only scored 20-plus points six times—and two of those occurrences came when both Parker and Duncan had the night off. Last season alone, Parker and Duncan accomplished that number 40 and 23 times, respectively.
Big-time shots are crucial, but overall scoring output is just as important.
In what order do you rank the Spurs' top scoring options?
Now, to clarify, Leonard is a more versatile threat than Spurs shooter Danny Green (who scored 20-plus points eight times during 2012-13) because Leonard is not a one-dimensional scorer.
Leonard can spot-up, post-up or score off the dribble, while Green relies on off-ball movement and quick passing—but that's exactly what Green's role demands.
Ultimately, until Duncan keels over on the court—because let's be serious, that's probably how he'll go out—Leonard can continue to improve his offensive versatility behind two of the NBA's best players.
And that's not such a bad thing for the promising young star.
Follow David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR
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