Before Kawhi Leonard joined the Clippers, I don’t think I appreciated the subtleties of his game. It’s like that with any player you don’t watch on a regular basis — you know the broad strokes of what they do and don’t do well, but there are little details you miss out on.
Now that Leonard is on the Clippers, I’ve learned to appreciate his economy of movement, the way he appears seemingly out of nowhere on a defensive possession, and how defenders bounce off of him when he drives. But the thing that has surprised me most with Leonard isn’t exactly one of his subtleties — it’s how fun it is to watch him dunk.
ESPN posted a video of some of the best dunks of Leonard’s career (about a quarter of it features his time with the Clippers), and that dude can just hammer the ball home.
Board Man gets posters— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 21, 2020
Some of the best dunks of Kawhi's career. pic.twitter.com/g32f5ePT8G
Leonard has to be one of the premier one-handed dunkers in the league. He has a bit of Terence Stansbury to him in the way he keeps the ball high while he dunks. There’s obviously a gap between Leonard’s in-game dunks and the Statue of Liberty, since Leonard wouldn’t dare to attempt a 360 in the halfcourt, but there’s a similar feel.
The way Leonard explodes to the basket is a delight to watch. Many of his dunks come in transition after he’s stolen the ball on the other end and has a clear runway to the basket. But it’s far more satisfying when it’s in the run of play, and instead of finishing a lay-up at the rim, he elevates and dunks it in.
There’s a compelling argument that Leonard isn’t even the best dunker on the Clippers. Paul George is a two-time dunk contest participant, and the way he glides through the air is something that Leonard can’t quite replicate.
I find myself think of Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine whenever I watch Leonard and George go aerial. With Leonard, like Gordon, there’s a visceral sense of how much effort they’re expending. But even though you can see behind the curtain, so to speak, it doesn’t diminish the impact of watching the dunk go through. George and LaVine are much smoother, more fluid in the air. It’s like they’re floating through the air.
There’s beauty in both of their methods, and Clipper fans are lucky to have both of them around. Leonard looked like he was getting bouncier as the year went on, too; he had 54 dunks this season, his highest dunk rate since 2015-16. Here’s hoping his legs are healthy enough to keep getting up whenever basketball comes back.