Our preview of the 2021-2022 Clippers’ season continues with a look at superstar Kawhi Leonard, who will be out for much if not all of the year after recovering from an ACL surgery this summer.
Years in NBA: 10
Key Stats: 52 games, 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.6 steals, on 51.2/39.8/88.5 shooting splits
Contract Status: Kawhi Leonard signed a four-year, $176M contract with the Clippers during the 2021 free agency period, which includes a player option for the fourth year.
The short-term expectation is for Kawhi to regain 100 percent health — no matter how long it takes. When Leonard was seriously injured in San Antonio, his return the following season was very brief, and probably premature, as he ended his season just nine games after returning. Not that this current situation compares to the one in San Antonio and whatever went wrong there, but Kawhi should be awarded all the time, comfort, and resources he needs to get back to being the best version of himself. The Clippers aren’t dumb; they’ll aid Kawhi in whichever ways he needs.
As he makes his eventual return, the long-term goal remains the same. Kawhi should continue to be one of the top players in the league and should help the Clippers compete for the “Larry OB” so long as the organization continues to put the right pieces in place. For those that value these things, he’ll have plenty of time to study his team and become a pseudo-coach as he rehabs — perhaps making his transition back to the court a bit more seamless from an x’s and o’s standpoint.
There’s very little to nitpick when evaluating Kawhi Leonard’s game. Once a limited passer, Leonard averaged a career-high 5.2 assists during the 2020/21 season, leaving him tied with Paul George for the highest average per game for the Clippers. Credit can be evenly distributed between the staff for implementing an offense that gets Kawhi into ideal spots where he can read and react to defenses and Leonard himself for his development in seeing the court.
As for the rest of his game, Kawhi continues to do what he’s consistently done since becoming a superstar player in the league. His shooting efficiency remained great in all phases of the game, and his play made its annual postseason jump. The Clippers having one of the few guys in the league that can consistently deliver elite and otherworldly performances when it matters the most is a great luxury to have. Kawhi does it every postseason, which is what makes him who he is. His elevation each postseason is the most important quality he possesses.
One area in Kawhi’s game that you can consider a weakness is how iso-heavy he can be at times. It’s no secret that the offense can be stagnant, and the ball can stick as Kawhi gets to his sweet spots in the mid and high posts to work his isolation series. It can be somewhat frustrating to watch when he’s not shooting well, but you sometimes just have to live and die by the strengths of your best player.
Perhaps Kawhi’s most significant flaw is the regular season and all that comes with it. Kawhi’s body is simply not built for the drag that is the 82-game schedule (72 last season), which is why you see him flip the switch on and off so frequently. The most clearcut way you can tell is by the minimal effort and lack of engagement on the defensive end. It’s all in his body language. He’ll coast and go through the motions on both ends of the court, and it sometimes has a trickle-down effect on the other guys on the team. Fortunately, this version of Kawhi is left in the regular season.
There isn’t a ton to say in a preview about a guy in Kawhi Leonard who could potentially not even play this 2022 season, but it was a fun challenge to try and do so anyway. It would be great for the Clippers to somehow sneak Kawhi back in towards the postseason, but let’s try not to do too much speculating in the meantime.