Kawhi Leonard Is the Best Two-Way Player in the NBA
Coach Gregg Popovich and the flu.
What do those two things have in common?
They're the only two things to slow down Kawhi Leonard so far this season.
Back in the second week of November, Pop rested Leonard against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers. Just this week, Leonard missed a
blowout game against the Sixers once again and returned last night, while fighting with gastroenteritis -- also known as the stomach flu.
But lines like last night's nine points on four of nine shooting have not been a common thing for the young Spur. He's having a great year, and many have brought him up in the MVP runner-up conversation (because Steph).
Why? Well, Leonard is hands down the best two-way player in the Association.
On the year, Leonard is averaging 21.0 points and 2.6 assists per game -- both career highs. What's been so eye-opening, though, is Kawhi's growth in both volume and efficiency from seasons past.
While taking on more offensive responsibility and shooting more shots per game, Leonard has somehow increased his shooting percentages from his career averages. What those percentages reflect is Leonard's vast improvement from deep.
He's attempting the most threes (4.0) per game of his career and shooting exactly 50.0% from beyond the arc. It appears as though Leonard's stroke has finally caught up with his crazy hand size.
As a result, you see a lot more pump and go's from Kawhi. And it shows in the numbers, as he's shooting a career high 73.7% from inside three feet. He's a threat inside and out and is proving to be one of the tougher covers in all of the league this year.
Prior to this season, we had yet to see Kawhi's offensive brilliance shine. What we did know, however, was that Leonard -- as evidenced by the Defensive Player of the Year award on his mantle -- is the best defensive player in the league.
Despite his offensive improvements, Leonard's defensive efforts have not suffered whatsoever. Actually, they've flourished.
He's still averaging 1.8 thefts per game while adding 1.1 blocks per contest. Before this season, Leonard never averaged a full block and had never reached a Block Percentage of 2%, let alone the 2.6% he's at now.
It's hard to believe, but he's added another dimension to his already-elite defense.
The Total Package
Kawhi is really good at offense and great at defense. That's what makes him the best two-way player in all of basketball. And like I said, it's not even close.
Curry is leaps and bounds beyond everyone else on offense, with a league leading Offensive Box Plus-Minus (a box score estimate of the offensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player, translated to a league-average team) of 13.3. But, he has a Defensive Box Plus-Minus (a box score estimate of the defensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player) of -0.5.
At a respectable Offensive Box Plus-Minus of 5.1, Leonard is just fifth in the league, though he doesn't even have half the score of Curry. In terms of Defensive Box Plus-Minus, Leonard is ninth in the NBA with a score of 3.2.
That makes Leonard the only player to crack the top 10 in both categories. And his overall Box Plus-Minus of 8.3 places him fourth among all NBA players.
No one else comes close to that.
He's one of the best, most efficient players in the league, but he is the premier two-way player in basketball.