How Kawhi Leonard unlocks the Clippers roster…when he’s healthy

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We all know that Kawhi Leonard is the heart and soul of the LA Clippers. Without him, they were 7-6 and before his return against the Pistons last Friday, his team had its worst offense in the league. Now, with the news he is gone again with an ankle injury, the Clippers may again struggle for a period without him.

For the three games Leonard has played, their score is 115.5 on offense and 103.8 on defense. To put that in perspective, for the 13 games Leonard didn’t play this season, their offensive rating was 108.4 and defensive 109.9 – so you can see his impact is immediate. It is also no coincidence that they have won their last three games and are second in the league defensively.

He distributes the ball quickly, keeping the attack flowing. Players double Leonard when he gets the ball, and he makes the right passes with a 3.4:1 ratio of assists to possession.

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Now LA has a roster full of wing shooters and players like Paul George, Reggie Jackson and John Wall who take turns attacking a defense. As for players who can tear down a defense on their own, those are lacking, but with Leonard, he’s as wise as Yoda when it comes to making the right reading.

The 31-year-old has been on a minute restriction since returning from managing his ACL after surgery and is taking fewer shots from the field, allowing him to commit to the defensive end like we haven’t seen in a long time. This was evident in his defense against Bojan Bogdanović in his second leg and in Lauri Markkenen against the Jazz on Tuesday, as they seemed to attack less when Leonard guarded them.

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It seems like it suits Leonard to play fewer minutes as he doesn’t overdo it and tries to do as much as he can in 35 minutes, but rather takes better shots and plays what he sees defensively, without necessarily stuffing the box score.

“I just try to control what I can and just play the best I can in those six minute stints and it works. So we are winning games,” said Leonard on Tuesday after the Jazz game.

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“It’s going to be a long journey,” says the five-time All-Star said Mark Medina after the Pistons game. “They say recovery doesn’t just take a year. Everyone thinks so. But it’s a two-year process.”

Leonard sat out the entire 2021-22 season due to his ACL injury and missed almost another full month due to joint stiffness after returning on October 24.

During the 2020-21 season, the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting 51.2 percent from the field, while on the finished eighth in the league in player efficiency.

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