Acie

It Didn't Take Long for Kawhi Leonard to Display His Superstar Pedigree

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LX
https://www.si.com/nba/2018/12/06/kawhi-leonard-raptors-76ers-eastern-conference-mvp-candidate?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=thecrossover&xid=socialflow_twitter_si&utm_medium=social

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The Sixers and Raptors met Wednesday night in Toronto for a game that might have been an Eastern Conference playoff preview. The action was back and forth throughout, but it was sloppy, too. Neither team was hitting on all cylinders. In the end, Wednesday night came down to Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler. The latter finished with 38 points and 10 rebounds on 15-27 shooting. Kawhi finished with 36 and nine, and he got the win

The difference for Toronto was defense. Leonard had five steals to go with his 36 points and he was wreaking havoc in the passing lanes all night long. The Sixers finished with 21 turnovers, including 11 in the second quarter (when the Raptors turned an eight-point deficit into a four-point halftime lead). Along with the increasingly sensational Pascal Siakam, Kawhi helped make Philly's stars uncomfortable throughout the game. Passes were deflected, ballhandlers were harassed, and the Sixers had no good answers beyond pull-up jumpers from Butler and J.J. Redick. Couple Leonard's defense with his production on offense, and it's games like Wednesday that will eventually help make an MVP case.

Defense is has always been what makes Leonard special; it won him a Finals MVP. The crazy thing about watching Kawhi today is that even as he's grown as a player and blossomed into the sort of scorer who can carry an offense by himself, his signature hasn't changed. Other players are called two-way stars if they can play defense; that doesn't mean they will actually dominate that end of the floor for an entire game. I'm thinking of players like Butler, Kevin Durant, Paul George; they turn defense on and off as needed. Kawhi is always there, haunting teams, waiting on a mistake, ready. It's not just hype.

Last Thursday, even as Durant was having an out of body experience to carry the Warriors to overtime, Leonard was in his jersey the entire time. 51 points in, when Durant finally got lazy on a crossover in overtime, Leonard poked the ball away and forced a turnover. Durant never scored again. Toronto pulled away and got the win.

As for Wednesday, if that was a playoff preview, it's hard to say how much we really learned. Joel Embiid was exhausted and uncharacteristically ineffective, while Ben Simmons was invisible. Only one of those problems figures to factor into any playoff series. Kyle Lowry and the Toronto supporting cast got decent looks all night, but outside of Leonard, Raptors were 3-23 from three-point range. That kind of ice cold night won't happen very often during a playoff series. On the other hand, a supporting cast full of role players of aging stars could be very a real concern when it's time to compete at the highest levels of the league. As much as the Raptors have changed, some of the same questions will have to be answered come May. 

The more interesting question is how many minds Kawhi Leonard can really change this season. Because it's all on the table. This Raptors team is very good, and there's a chance to be great. To get there, Kawhi will have to stake his claim as the most complete superstar in the NBA. For several years now, the three best players in the basketball have been Steph Curry, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant. Maybe that discussion will be more interesting by next summer. 

I don't know whether Kawhi belongs in the conversation with the best players on earth, but watching the Raptors early on this year, I do know this: He's never had a better opportunity to make his case.

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JeffB
http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/25465120/kawhi-leonard-proving-why-belongs-atop-nba-mvp-leaderboard?platform=amp&__twitter_impression=true
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Acie
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Raptors officials have noticed a Clippers employee at roughly 75 percent of the team's games thus far this season. Clippers officials say they've been at less than 50 percent of Leonard's games. There have been games they attended where Leonard rested. That has included president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank, which is rare. Presidents and general managers are almost never seen attending a game that doesn't involve their teams.


http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/25501657/clippers-scouting-kawhi-leonard-kevin-durant-nba
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rb


no mention of direct contact but can't this be considered a form of tampering? either way the clippers can fuck off. 
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LX
https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/thats-pretty-interesting-kawhi-leonards-evolving-passing-game-is-setting-the-tone-for-raptors/amp/?__twitter_impression=true

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TORONTO -- Kawhi Leonard saved the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday. The team with the league's best record needed him to smack the ball away from DeAndre' Bembryand stonewall Trae Young in the game's final 30 seconds in order to beat the lowly Atlanta Hawks by a mere three points. The play that stuck with me, though, took place about a minute earlier and had no bearing on the outcome. 

With the Raptors down by one, Leonard isolated against Bembry. A spin move propelled him to the paint, and all five Hawks defenders had their eyes on him. Three of them converged, trying to force a turnover or at least make him give up the ball. In traffic, Leonard managed to find Kyle Lowry as open as he has ever been at the top of the key. Lowry missed the 3 badly, but that's hardly the pointThis is likely the play Nick Nurse had in mind when he said that Leonard has "a lot of arms climbing all over him," requiring him to use his considerable strength just to complete a pass. The Toronto coach lightly suggested that "maybe, some of those, he should be shooting free throws, but he plays through the hits and keeps finding people." 


Leonard had six assists to go with his 31 points against Atlanta, and his coach probably wouldn't have praised Leonard in this particular way two months ago. "About 12-15 games into the season," Nurse said, Leonard started seeing more double- and triple-teams. In a new system, with new teammates, the superstar didn't always have the clearest picture of the court in his head, especially with multiple bodies flying at him. Over the course of the season, Leonard has figured it out -- his passing has never been better -- and is regularly hitting cutters for layups and shooters for wide-open looks. 

"Even when Kawhi's in kill mode, things are flowing much better," Nurse said. 

Leonard's kill mode is powerful. Last week against the Utah Jazz, he scored a career-high 45 points, 19 of them coming in a third-quarter takeover. It was one of the most impressive performances anyone has had this season. There is a natural tension, though, between the Raptors' offensive flow and Leonard's individual exploits. Some of that is relieved when Leonard makes it a point to be a passer. 

"It's contagious," Toronto guard Fred VanVleet told CBS Sports. "And obviously he can get his points whenever he wants, but when he comes out and sets the table and sets the tone of passing, we've had some of our high-assist numbers."

This is not to say that the Raptors -- back in action on Friday against the Nets (7:30 p.m. ET; watch on fuboTV) -- are in perfect harmony. Their pace without Leonard on the court would rank fourth in the NBA; with him, it would rank 20th. The Hawks game marked the first time since Dec. 9 that he and Lowry had shared the court, thanks to injuries and Leonard's no-back-to-back program, which might be over now. 

It is easy to see that Lowry has been significantly more aggressive and efficient without Leonard, but this is a reflection of a bigger issue, the defining element of Toronto's season: The coaching staff is trying to make the absolute most of Leonard's talent without boxing everybody else into limited, restrictive roles. Nurse understands why players sometimes end up standing around as Leonard dissects the defense -- when he is on the sideline, he likes watching Leonard go to work, too.

There is little mystery to how opposing teams will defend the Raptors in the playoffs. They will dare every role player, save for Danny Green and perhaps C.J. Miles, to shoot from the perimeter. They will try to take the ball out of Leonard's hands. The rest of the regular season is about preparing for this, but Leonard seems to have his part of the equation down. Last Saturday in Milwaukee, he assisted on all three of Pascal Siakam's 3-pointers. 

"He commands such attention on the floor that he is going to be able to get double-teamed, he's going to be able to find guys," Lowry said. "We just gotta be able to make shots for him."

Leonard does not pick teams apart the way LeBron James and James Harden do, but for a guy who has averaged 2.3 assists in his career, there is real progress on display. Keeping it up might vault him higher in all the experts' MVP rankings, and more importantly, it would help bridge the gap between the let's beat teams with our system strategy and the let Kawhi cook strategy. Against elite defensive teams, under postseason pressure, Toronto will have to be comfortable manufacturing points however they come. Bring on the triple-teams



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Northern Neighbour
Kawhi Leonard speaking about his game prior to the 2011 NBA Draft. He was a lot more talkative then.

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