Toronto Raptors: Kawhi Leonard has been better than advertised

Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) /

Kawhi Leonard has been playing out of his mind in the playoffs, putting up big numbers and being the main bucket-getter for the Toronto Raptors.

Before this season, the last time Kawhi Leonard was in the playoffs, he was carving up the Golden State Warriors with 26 points in just 23 minutes in the Western Conference Finals. Then, after suffering an (in)famous ankle injury and missing the playoffs in 2018, Kawhi was unheard from for nearly two years. Now with the Toronto Raptors, it’s safe to say he’s right back where he left off.

Leonard has reminded NBA fans and players that he is nothing to mess with come playoff time. He has been spectacular in this year’s playoffs, returning to the player he was right before his injury.

His efficient scoring and shot-making have been the source of his dominant play, hitting difficult baskets and continuing to be the go-to scorer for the Raptors. Many expected Kawhi to play well in the postseason, and the Klaw has played good (even better) as advertised so far.

Killer Klaw

Despite his Game 3 struggles in round one against the Magic (where he battled the flu), Kawhi has been a man on fire in the playoffs. Leonard has averaged a career-high 31.3 points per game, ranking third in the NBA. This is an almost four-point increase from his 2017 postseason (27.7). He also has a 32.94 PER, which is over seven points higher than his regular season PER (25.86).

Averaging a playoff career-high 31 points is great, but Leonard’s increased shooting averages are even better. Kawhi is shooting 57-percent from the floor and 46-percent from three-point range. Both averages are career highs for the Klaw in the postseason. His career high percentages show that Kawhi is not only finding his shot, but he is hitting those shots with regularity.

One way Kawhi has been able to maintain such high percentages is by simply hitting difficult shots. It seems like Leonard isn’t fazed by the physical brand of defense teams have played on him in the playoffs. Despite the physical defense and the amount of attention that has come his way, Kawhi has dominated, finding a counter-attack to every defensive strategy against him.

Many expected Leonard to increase his defensive play during the playoffs, but nobody expected these kinds of offensive numbers to come from Kawhi at this point in the postseason. He has been simply unguardable at every level of the floor.

From him attacking the basket, to his operation of the pick and roll, to his post-up opportunities, even to his three-point shooting, Kawhi has been masterful at every area on the court. Amazingly enough, Leonard has gotten even hotter as the playoff progressed.

To put Kawhi’s playoffs into perspective, he has shot just as well as the Warriors’ Kevin Durant this postseason. Leonard and KD both have the same true shooting percentage (70 percent). Durant and Leonard are the 1st and 3rd ranked scoring leaders so far this postseason, playing with this type of volume and efficiency is nearly unheard of.

Leonard has been dominant in other places the stats won’t necessarily show. Kawhi has been a pest defensively, entering opposing passing lanes and hounding his defensive assignments every contest. His playoff average of 1.3 steals per game only tells part of the story, as his individual defense has had an effect on the entire Raptors team defensively.

Good as Advertised

Toronto had high expectations of Kawhi Leonard coming into this year’s playoffs.

The Raptors have been a team that couldn’t find their way past the second round of the playoffs for quite some time, and Kawhi was seen to be the piece that could get them over the hump. It’s safe to say that Kawhi has been as good as advertised in the playoffs.

During the season, there were murmurs about Kawhi and how his season-long “load management” wasn’t needed.

Well, it seems like all the management has worked out, as Kawhi has played about 36 minutes per game in the postseason without showing any real signs of fatigue.  Nick Nurse has run a starter-heavy playoff rotation up to this point (for good reason), and Kawhi should expect to play a high amount of minutes for the rest of the playoffs.

Kawhi has been the main bucket-getter for the Raptors all season, but in the playoffs, he has stepped up his game. He has put the team on his back offensively, carrying the scoring load on a nightly basis (along with some help from Pascal Siakam).

Leonard has let everyone know that the regular season is merely tune-ups for the postseason on many occasions. He knows that the playoffs are where the great players separate from the good ones and he is separating himself this postseason.

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The Toronto Raptors have been thriving off of Kawhi’s hot postseason start. His offensive explosions were somewhat expected, but having those explosions on a nightly basis is new to everyone.

Averaging career-highs in multiple categories only emphasizes the tear the Klaw has been on this playoffs. This year has been a season of “wait and see” when it comes to Kawhi and the playoffs, but he is showing not only the Raptors but the entire NBA that the wait was worth it. If he keeps up this high level of play, maybe that “Playoff Kawhi” nickname of his will become permanent.