Kawhi Leonard has been shut down indefinitely after yet another setback, this time in the form of a quadriceps injury. This is the most recent of a stretch of injuries for the Spurs’ superstar which dates back to an ankle injury which forced him out of the playoffs. According to head coach Greg Popovich, Leonard has also been dealing with a partial tear in his left shoulder.
This news does not bode well for the Spurs. With Leonard, a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and their offensive fulcrum, they are a perennial contender in the much more competitive Western Conference of the NBA. Without, they are a collection of old veterans such as Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili and LaMarcus Aldridge and role players such as Patty Mills and Kyle Anderson.
While Leonard’s 16.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG and 2.3 APG can be made up, his presence on the defensive end cannot be replicated. In the small sample size of games he has played in the 2017-2018 season, he is averaging 2.0 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He is also only averaging a foul a game, which means that he comes up with the ball on defense more often than not. His assignment is almost always the opposition’s best wing scorer, so the fact that he plays that kind of defense against the game’s best says a lot about his ability.
Leonard’s offensive usage rate this year was 30.9. San Antonio’s offense ran through him on 30% of possessions. That’s a lot of work if you take into account his defensive efforts as well. While it has already been established that he is one of the game’s premier defensive stoppers, his offensive value has been replicated by a bounce-back season from LaMarcus Aldridge. San Antonio’s forgotten big man is averaging 22.4 PPG and 8.5 RPG while shooting 49.5% from the floor. His PER is up to 24 – a career high – and his True Shooting Percentage (TS%) is at 56.1%. He is scoring in volume and is maintaining a high level of efficiency while doing so.
The Spurs are currently third in the Western Conference at 29-16. If they can keep up the current pace while Leonard rehabs, they will undoubtedly make the playoffs and have a chance at redemption against the Golden State Warriors – the same team that Leonard was injured against last year and that knocked his Spurs out of the playoffs. Hopefully, his rehab goes well because the game of basketball is made better by this quiet superstar.