Much has been said about Kawhi Leonard over the last several years. He went from (arguably) the best two-way player in the game, to Uncle Dennis’s primadonna nephew, to the Toronto Raptors’ championship-winning rental star, to the catalyst of the infamous load management scheme. The latter has recently been what he’s best known for, considering he’s done it the most and inadvertently made it a trend. Even his co-star, Paul George, is doing it on-and-off.
Here’s a look back at Kawhi’s regular season appearances over the last five full seasons:
- 2017-18 – played 9 out of 82 games
- 2018-19 – played 60 out of 82 games
- 2019-20 – played 57 out of 62 games
- 2020-21 – played 50 out of 72 games
- 2021-22 – Missed all 82 games
While 2017-18 and 2021-22 had very legitimate reasons as both were major injuries to his ankle and knee, a good majority of his missed games in other seasons were due to frequent rests.
As for this 2022-23 season, he has played in 26 out of 51 games. That’s 25 missed outings a little over halfway into the campaign, which will very likely grow to several more.
Fortunately, he’s at least back and thriving
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we do – as many would say these days – have to “keep the same energy,” because Leonard is gaining steam, and who’s to say he’s not in position to become one of the elite players yet again?
After all the careful resting and setbacks since the 2021 off-season, The Klaw appears to be clawing his way back into tip-top shape. Over his last nine games, he’s dropping 29.0 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.8 assists per game, and with good efficiency as shown by his smooth 56.3%/45.2%/91.5% shooting splits. While he’s at it, his LA Clippers have also won four-straight with an average winning margin of 18.7 points.
The occasional rest may continue, but when he’s on, he’s really on. We also know how well he can boost a team and how high his top gear is when he turns it up, especially come playoff time. Here’s his recent matchup with Luka Doncic, where he scored 18 of his 30 points in the second half to help put the game away:
Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks aren’t exactly rivals since the Clippers have eliminated them twice in the playoffs (2020 and 2021), but Kahwi understands that Luka’s star is getting bigger and brighter and it will be a statement win if they get the W, so off he went.
How far can he lead the Clippers?
The Clippers are currently sitting at 27-24, flipping back and forth between the fifth and sixth spots in the West. The talent is growing in the conference as per usual so it’s not exactly the easiest hill to climb. However, we can’t discount how well Leonard can lead, particularly if he and George are both healthy. It’s still a duo to be reckoned with as they play offense and defense at an All-Star level.
The other guys are solid as well, so it should make Leonard’s job lighter. Reggie Jackson is a good weapon that can score inside and out, Marcus Morris provides size and shooting, and Ivica Zubac is a reliable big that can dish out a double-double and interior defense when called upon.
Additionally, while Leonard already has a pair of championships and Finals MVPs in his trophy room, it’s easy to see that because of all the noise that has happened, most notably the two major injuries, issues on the questionable rests, and the embarrassing collapse in the 2020 playoffs, his hunger to win more is back to like he hasn’t won anything. Load management or not, we should see his surgical style of basketball and stoic personality be on full display. It’ll be on our screens for a couple more years, given that he’s just 31 years old.
In any case, Leonard, George, and the rest of the Clipps are in for quite the challenge moving forward. We’ll see how much they’ve grown from all the disappointing playoff exits. Leonard will have to push his game and his body, and either an epic or rough playoff run awaits us.