The best player in the world has his kryptonite. LeBron James, who has only averaged less than 25 points per game in one season, recently came out and said that Kawhi Leonard, the NBA’s top perimeter defender, guards him the best.
It came during a segment on the Open Run podcast, and James praised Leonard’s ability on that end of the floor, “Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi Leonard, he’s solid. He’s solid, solid at that end of the floor. He’s very, very solid. I like him. I like the kid.”
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Behind all the redundancy, I think we get the point. James now joins a list that includes almost all of the NBA’s wing players who struggle when matched up against Leonard. It seems that he was made to be a stopper on defense, and the mix of athleticism and physical attributes make him a beast–for lack of a better term.
“Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi Leonard, he’s solid. He’s solid, solid at that end of the floor. He’s very, very solid. I like him. I like the kid.”
At 6’7, 230-pounds with a 7’3 wingspan, Leonard is perfect for counteracting the association’s best scorers, and he’s a major part of the Spurs’ outstanding perimeter defense. (Oh, I almost forget to mention his monstrous hands. Can’t write about him without mentioning that.) This past year, opponents shot an average field goal percentage of 44.8 and saw that number drop to 39.2 when Leonard guarded them, according to NBA.com.
He’s quick laterally and explosive, so good luck trying to beat him off the dribble. Moreover, the efficiency of San Antonio’s offense and depth of their bench prevents massive strain on Leonard, allowing him to be more effective for longer periods of time. Already a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and three-time All-Defensive team member, Leonard has yet to hit his peak as a pro.
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LeBron, however, is still an offensive juggernaut and averaged 25.5 points on 56 percent shooting against the Spurs this season, and 25.3 on 52 percent overall. Because of everything that he does, James’ defense still gets overlooked and–statistically–he’s a better on-ball defender than Leonard.
NBA.com‘s tracking stats show that the players that LeBron defends shoot at 37.4 percent, down from their average of 44.7. On shots from inside six feet, LeBron has another advantage, and opponents shoot 48.6 percent compared to Leonard’s 53.5. There are, however, things that factor into this, like James’ bigger, more athletic body that lets him fight with bigger players on the block; Leonard, listed at 230, gives up at least twenty pounds to James.
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