After a great regular season, one in which the Spurs went 54-12 with him in the lineup, Kawhi Leonard was expected to increase his production significantly in the playoffs after his breakout last May and June.
In the first round against the Dallas Mavericks, Leonard was uncharacteristically passive, deferring to his more experienced teammates. Though still a force on defense, Coach Popovich’s decision to put Leonard on the lightning quick Monta Ellis surely took its toll on Kawhi. He simply seemed less engaged on offense due to the amount of work he had to do on the other end, trying to stop Ellis.
For the series, Leonard averaged 11.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, and 1.1 spg, with a shooting slash line of .492/.316/.591. Of all these numbers, only the 7.4 rpg eclipsed his regular season production, and his three-point and foul shot percentages are far below his regular season and career averages. Simply, outside of games 3 and 7, Kawhi struggled offensively against Dallas.
Enter the Portland Trail Blazers.
An aggressive Leonard scored the first points in games 1 and 2, and totaled 12 first quarter points in game 2. Through the first three games of the series, Kawhi has improved his numbers to 17.3 ppg, 8 rpg, and 2.3 spg, with a shooting slash line of .563/.545/.833. Each of these numbers are an improvement over his regular season stats, a direct result of his assertiveness on the offensive end.
Leonard has become more aggressive in a variety of ways. Most noticeably, Kawhi looks to take advantage of mismatches, posting up smaller players with great results. The Spurs have even run pick and roll plays designed to switch a smaller defender onto Leonard.
Most of all, Kawhi is looking for his shot now, and playing with confidence when the ball is in his hands. He isn’t afraid to pull up for an 18-footer on a fast break, or nail a step-back three in transition.
As the playoffs continue, look for Leonard’s confidence to continue to build, creating a nightmare for opposing teams on both ends of the floor.