Can Kawhi Leonard pick up his historic Clippers season where he left off?

The performance stood out for its efficiency. Such was the speed at which it was eclipsed.

In less than 26 minutes on March 10, Clippers striker Kawhi Leonard scored 23 points, making 64% of his shots and 40% of his three-pointers, with five assists and four rebounds, in a runaway road victory against Golden State. Leonard also recorded no sales. But against the background of the spread of the new coronavirus in the Bay Area, the night was quickly forgotten. The NBA season was suspended within 24 hours.

No one knows what’s coming for the NBA – whether it will be rebooted at all or, if so, in what form. Whether or not Leonard’s performance against the Warriors will be his last this season, it was the last in a year that earned him a career-high average of 26.9 points and 5.0 assists, 7.3 rebounds, which his best career and 1.8 steals and set him on track for one of the most memorable and one of the best statistical, individual seasons in Clippers history.

“This is not a scenario where you have a guy who has a sort of season that comes out of nowhere,” said Greg Anthony, an 11-year-old NBA veteran and NBA analyst for Turner Sports. “The man was the MVP of the final last year, he was previously the MVP of the final. I think he has established himself as a top five player in the league.

“If you think about what he did, the other [Clipper] that clearly jumps is Blake Griffin and also Chris Paul. Those are the three guys who statistically made the biggest impact and win. He is without a doubt in that conversation. “

Before this season, only 26-7-5 stat line had been produced in NBA history, and four more – Leonard, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Dallas’ Luka Doncic, and Houston’s Russell Westbrook – were on pace to join this company to join this season. And Leonard did it playing 32.2 minutes per game, the second-minute average of those 41 qualifying seasons.

A stat line of 26-7-5, plus at least 1 ½ steals, has only been done 15 times by five players. Leonard and Westbrook would also crack that group.

The shortened nature of Leonard’s season, which played 51 of the 64 games while the team managed his normal seasonal endeavor, makes it difficult to rank the Clippers stars side by side over the past few seasons, said Ralph Lawler, the team’s broadcaster for 40 years until his retirement last season.

“But when you see him play and think, this man could be the best Clipper player the game has ever played,” said Lawler. Some would say, “Well, that’s not a very high bar,” but it’s a high bar. Chris Paul was here and a young vintage Blake Griffin was here and Elton Brand was here and there have been some very good players over the years. None of them have ever stayed long enough. ‘

Leonard was on track to nearly double his career average of 2.7 assists per game and make him just the fifth Clipper 6-foot-6 or greater with an average of at least 5.0 assists per season. His improvement as a playmaker reflected a change in his playing style to meet the needs of his new team.

Without a true starting point keeper – only in late February they added a primary ballhandler to their bank with the signing of Reggie Jackson – the Clippers put the ball in Leonard’s hands more than ever. He owned almost 33% of the time the Clippers had the ball, the ninth highest utilization rate in the league and 63% of his field goals scored was unassisted, the highest percentage of his career excluding his injured nine-game season in 2017 -18.

The volume did not detract from Leonard’s efficiency. Of the eight players who were ahead of Leonard in usage speed, only Doncic has a higher offensive rating. Leonard’s scoring average was at the highest level by a Clipper since World B. Free in 1980. Against Cleveland on January 14, he became the only Clipper to score at least 40 points in less than 30 minutes.

“Statistically, his offensive numbers are comparable to what we saw last year, but that’s the one that really sticks out,” said Anthony. “He has proven to be more of a playmaker.”

Among Clippers who have played for at least half a season, Leonard ranks second in terms of player efficiency, behind Paul’s 2011-12 season and slightly ahead of Brand in 2005-06. In February, he became the third player in franchise history to become the most valuable player in an All-Star game, after Paul and Buffalo’s Randy Smith.

All of Leonard’s regular seasonal production was intended to be just a warm-up to the playoffs. Indeed, Leonard did seem to find a rhythm in more recent matches that didn’t exist in the early weeks of the season as he increased his workload after leg injuries prevented him from training out of season. His offensive score of 118.6 points per 100 possessions since January 1 was nearly six points higher than in October, November and December.

“I feel better,” he said on January 10 after scoring 36 points against Golden State in Los Angeles. “I can jump without it bothering me too much. Hopefully I will keep going uphill from here.”

He did. That evening started a series of nine games in which he scored at least 30 points, the second longest of that series in franchise history. During that trajectory he averaged 34.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.2 steals and shot a total of 51% and 39.7% on three-pointers.

In February, coach Doc Rivers thought Leonard was healthy enough to have him guard the opponent’s best attacker more often. In March, Leonard nearly halved his seasonal average revenue ratio.

It all led to the start of the postseason in April, when the Clippers hoped to advance to the franchise’s first conference finals and beyond. Instead, it led to a wait-and-see contest to see if Leonard and the Clippers get the chance to write an unforgettable season.

“They are one of the two best teams in the Western Conference,” said Anthony. “That’s not really a question. What you want to see, however, is how we forcibly get to and in the playoffs when things heat up. How they perform in adversity, fear and tension. Do they trust their identity and have they established that? It sounds strange to say that, but there are many new pieces. “

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