Weight: 230 lbs
NBA Experience: 8 years
Key Stats: Won a championship in his sole season with the Toronto Raptors, triumphing in six games over the Golden State Warriors. In 60 regular season games (60 starts) with Toronto, Leonard averaged career highs in points (26.6) and rebounds (7.3) and also chipped in 3.3 assists, shooting 49.6% from the field. In the playoffs, Leonard dominated — putting up 30.5 points a game and 9.1 rebounds — cementing his status as a top three player in the NBA.
Contract Status: Entering the first year of a three-year, $103.1 million deal. Leonard holds a player option for the 2021-22 season.
Rings or bust. While that might be a tad unfair, after the season Kawhi Leonard just had, it is a justifiable expectation. With the roster the Clippers currently possess, they are rightfully the favorites to raise the Larry OB next summer. The Board Man cemented his place as a top three player in the league (maybe even the best player in the league according to some) with his playoff performance and stunning championship run. Now he has an even better team around him (Editor’s Note: Eh, that Raptors team was phenomenal) and a franchise hungry for their first real taste of success. A chance to grab a hold of a city that has long been dowsed in Purple and Gold. A chance to really turn the wheels of the entire landscape of a franchise mired in flotsam for decades. For Leonard, this is a grand chance to establish himself as the consensus best player in the league with another championship run.
Leonard is only under the Clips control, contractually, for two seasons. If there isn’t immediate success, the franchise that traded away most of their future for both Leonard and Paul George could see an exodus of the star power they so desperately craved and received. It truly could be a now or (potentially) never situation in L.A. with Leonard’s proclivity for keeping teams on their toes and his independence, as well as the ever-changing landscape of the player empowerment era in the NBA.
As far as regular season expectations for Kawhi, when he is on the floor, expect a show. He now has a true star running mate in George, someone who, like himself, excels on both ends and will make opposing guards’ lives on the court miserable. He has a team around him where he fits in seamlessly with the “tough, grit and grind” identity developed last season and where his offensive game can really shine. Kawhi is fully healthy and coming off a career year. With the new talent he has around him in L.A., expectations for another career year are not out of question. While he may take a slight step back statistically with George now in tow, Kawhi is in a position to have one of the more efficient years of his career and be in an even more comfortable situation than he was with those early Spurs teams.
The caveat to Leonard’s potential regular season greatness is the load management he will likely take on. The Klaw purposefully missed 22 games last season for rest. This came after a year in which he played only nine games in San Antonio due to a litany of injuries and internal issues with the franchise. The result of this rest? A healthy player both physically and mentally for the playoffs. For the rest of his career, Kawhi will more than likely utilize this “load management” to stay fresh for the later months of the season. That’s why any Clippers fan expecting a one seed probably shouldn’t. It’s now been proven that saving your body for the playoff grind works. As the main proponent of this is now a Clipper, the team will make sure that he is ready for April, May, and June and will still win a ton of games during the regular season. Dubs’s all around.
Um….everything? He is strong as hell (and looks like he might have even gotten bigger in the offseason), he is the best wing defender in the NBA on an individual possession basis, he is one of the best rebounding wigs in the NBA, he is a willing passer who can create for himself and others, can shoot the lights out on any given night, can go inside and out better than anyone not named LeBron James, and is also a good teammate and positive locker room presence. Yes, he’s quiet. But he leads by example. Kawhi will fit perfectly with a team around him that has an underdog mentality, still plays with chips on their collective shoulders, and has an unbreakable chemistry. He’s not someone that always needs the ball in his hands, he doesn’t want the spotlight, he doesn’t talk smack. He goes out there and does what he needs to do to win on a nightly basis. Kawhi is a true lunch pail player in a superstar’s body.
I am going to sound like a broken record here, but Leonard might be the most complete NBA player in the league right now. Kawhi is an all-world defender, all-world scorer, and career 50% shooter and 38.3% three-point shooter who can rebound the hell outta the ball, possesses one of the highest basketball IQ’s in the NBA and is a quiet, reserved dude whose only care in the world seems to be ball. He’s a motivated, focused individual who is a great teammate and genuinely wants to be in his hometown of L.A. I don’t think anyone foresees chemistry issues or institutional issues coming from Leonard’s end. The only weakness that Leonard could have is potential health issues. He has given assurances thus far in the preseason that he is 100% ready to go for the start of the season and with load management surely taking place during the full 82, Leonard should be healthy year-round. Only outside forces could break this positive forward motion. For now, Leonard is individually the rock the Clippers need right now.