Since 1983, Kawhi Leonard is the only player to rack up 65 points and ten steals through the first two games of a season.
Tim Duncan retiring symbolized the end of an era in San Antonio. He’s the greatest Spur of all time and his decision to step away from the game begged the question of who will replace him.
Kawhi Leonard seemed like the most obvious answer. As he’s matured, Leonard has turned into a superstar on both ends of the ball and has established himself as the best two-way player in the NBA. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year has started off the 2016-17 campaign with a bang and is leaving no doubt that he will replace Duncan as the next great player in San Antonio.
When the Spurs thrashed the Golden State Warriors on opening night, Leonard was the catalyst. He dropped a career-high 35 points on the Dubs’ defense, and he was able to get whatever he wanted when he wanted it. A flurry of mid-range jumpers, combined with his slashing ability left Golden State shredded. Leonard didn’t relent and knocked in 15-of-15 free throws en route to his career night.
Furthermore, he was just as hellacious as always on defense and came up with five steals while keeping his defensive rating at a staggering 94.
The following game against the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night, Leonard dazzled again. This time, however, he’d only go for 30. It was much of the same, plenty of mid-range jumpers coupled with strategic drives to the basket. This game, though, Rudy Gay played excellent defense on Leonard and hardly gave him room to breathe, but great players make tough shots.
It was much of the same on defense, too. Leonard ball-hawked all game and came up with five steals, including two back-to-back swipes from Ben McLemore late in the third quarter. Behind his 30-point, five assist night, the Spurs lurched out to a 2-0 start in the West, and Leonard is making a strong case as a bonafide superstar and MVP candidate.
Keep in mind that Leonard has totaled 65 points while making just one three in eight attempts, and he averaged 21.2 points last year as a 44 percent shooter from deep.
It’s clear that he’s become a better player, but he’ll significantly shake up the Western Conference player if he continues this tirade. Leonard can score in various ways, whether he has the ball and is running pick-and-roll or not. With a usage rate of nearly 35 percent, he’s is close to ten points above his previous high, illustrating the point that Gregg Popovich has total faith in him being the orchestrator of the Spurs’ offense.
Now that he requires so much more attention, it’s easier for Leonard to find open guys and he’s handed eight assists through the first two games this year. Moreover, he’s making the easy play more times than not and doesn’t turn the ball over.
The last–and scariest–point is that his minutes aren’t going to change. As expected, Pop won’t strain any of his guys. Leonard’s minutes per game will remain in the low 30s throughout the season, and that’s the most frightening aspect.
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