The legend that is Kawhi Leonard is continuing to grow. As a three-time All-Star and two-time champion, the former San Diego State standout is already viewed as one of the best players in the NBA. His defensive prowess is well-documented, and his ability to score is evident. However, it was his playmaking skills that shined through in Thursday night’s blowout win over the Golden State Warriors.
The Clippers were without the services of Paul George for Thursday’s matchup, as he’s still recovering from a pair of shoulder surgeries. It didn’t seem to matter much, though, as Leonard took the reigns.
Leonard logged 21 minutes in the 141-122 victory, scoring 21 points on 9-of-17 shooting from the field (1-of-3 from beyond the arc), a team-high nine assists and five rebounds. He also finished with a true plus/minus score of +27, which was second only to Patrick Patterson’s +30.
Nine assists is a fairly high number for Leonard. That’s not to say he can’t pass, because he clearly can. The simple fact is: that hasn’t been a big part of his game in the past. If he can maintain this level of play-making, the rest of the league will need to adjust their game plans.
“I thought he started doing it in the second round last year,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers told ESPN after Thursday’s win over the Warriors. “In the first round he was just dominating and then I thought as each round went on he started playmaking more and more, but what he’s doing now is on another level.”
In another impressive victory, the Clippers dispatched LeBron James and the new-look Lakers in their season opener on Tuesday night, 112-102. Leonard had 30 points on 10-for-19 shooting, six rebounds, and five assists. In one stretch of that game, he hit seven straight shots.
Leonard, who was recently featured in a promotional ad for Terminator: Dark Fate, is a quiet sort of guy most of the time, but coach Rivers says the two-time Finals MVP “talks with his game:”
“It’s a great sign of leadership,” Rivers said of Leonard. “He talks with his game.”
Leonard signed a reported three-year, $103 million contract with the Clippers over the summer, returning to his Southern California roots. And for the record, Paul George (Palmdale) came home, too.
“Paul is someone I always wanted to play next to,” Leonard said via NBA.com after signing with the Clippers. “Now we’re on the Clippers and we have something special together. We can make history here. We got the right team to do it. I’m excited.”
If first impressions are an indicator of what’s to come, Leonard and the Clippers are going to be a dominant force in the NBA this season.