Stopping: Kawhi Leonard – Liberty Ballers

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Kawhi Leonard is a 27 yr previous with a Corridor of Fame resume, he compelled his approach out of the NBA’s mannequin franchise, and outdoors of Kevin Durant no participant’s free company determination this summer season could have greater ramifications across the league than Leonard’s. But, by some means Leonard appears to fly underneath the radar. Previous to his First Spherical match-up in opposition to the Orlando Magic, Kawhi Leonard’s final postseason sport resulted in controversy as Zaza Pachulia ended Kawhi’s playoffs early within the second half of Sport One of many 2017 Western Convention Finals. The harm sparked debate, inflicting the league to vary guidelines about giving shooters touchdown house, and finally performed a job in Leonard’s messy exit from San Antonio final summer season. The following drama that stemmed from that harm could make it simple to overlook that when Leonard obtained harm the Spurs led the Warriors 78-55 at Oracle, with Kawhi contributing 26 factors. With out their star, San Antonio wilted on the Warriors expertise, giving up a 26 level lead and finally getting swept.

After a misplaced 2017-18 season and a cease and go 60 video games 2018-19, Kawhi is beginning to spherical again within the kind final seen from him in that Sport One in opposition to Golden State, a terrifying prospect for the 76ers. Within the Raptors 5 video games in opposition to Orlando, Leonard averaged 27.eight PPG, whereas capturing 55.6 p.c from the sphere and 53.eight p.c from past the arc. With Leonard on the court docket in opposition to Orlando, Toronto had a Offensive Ranking of 122 and a Defensive Ranking of 97 — fairly rattling good!

For higher or worse, stopping Leonard isn’t going to be a solo effort — Toronto would by no means permit it. Just like the Sixers, Toronto is a strolling mismatch, they transfer each on and off the ball, setting screens and forcing defensive switches. Towards Orlando, Leonard was a decide and roll ball handler on 6.2 possession per sport, typically working display motion with Marc Gasol or Kyle Lowry.

When Orlando switched his motion with Gasol, Leonard discovered himself matched up in isolation in opposition to a helpless Nikola Vucevic. Leonard averaged 1.05 factors per possession in isolation throughout the common season, for all their defensive enchancment throughout the common season, Orlando had no solutions for a lead-footed huge matched up in house with an isolation scorer as harmful as Leonard. To reply this, Orlando turned to trapping Gasol/Leonard motion…

… That didn’t finish properly both.

How Philadelphia chooses to defend these Leonard, Gasol actions will likely be telling. Towards Brooklyn, Joel Embiid dropped exhausting into the paint in opposition to the decide and roll, baiting the Nets right into a barrage of mid-range jumpers and off steadiness floaters, typically disrupted by the secondary pursuit of Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons assisted by the short stunting assist of the off ball wing defenders. Though they have been typically burned by Caris Levert, Philadelphia was probably pleased with their defensive execution, highlighted by their efficiency within the first quarter in Sport 5. To deal with Toronto’s motion with Gasol and Leonard, the Sixers are going must execute stunts and switches exactly, whereas matching the Raptors stage of physicality.

The Raptors additionally wish to put Leonard in slightly two-man sport with All-Star level guard Kyle Lowry, typically looking for mismatches on smaller gamers for Kawhi. Search for the Sixers to counter this by placing splitting Butler and Simmons on Lowry and Leonard, biting the bullet of leaving Tobias Harris on the lengthy and athletic Pascal Siakam. Leonard and Lowry have developed an incredible understanding of one another’s video games of their lone season collectively, in opposition to Orlando, Lowry was typically capable of anticipate the swap and slipping the display into flare display from an enormous, leading to a large open three.

Leonard is sort of Jordan-esque in his potential to get to his spots on the court docket. He’s affected person and deliberate, not often seeming flustered or uncontrolled when the ball is in his arms. He makes use of the entire court docket and has a number of counter strikes if his preliminary plan is reduce off by the protection, and has grown as a passer since his early days in San Antonio.


The above chart from Ryan Davis’ web site NBAShotCharts.com breaks down Leonard’s factors per shot by flooring zone from the common season, whereas nearly breaking down frequency, whereas the under breaks down his PPS and frequency from his 5 sport collection in opposition to Orlando.


Towards Orlando, Leonard’s effectivity within the midrange elevated, whereas he additionally elevated his shot output on the rim. Philadelphia’s drop and recuperate decide and roll technique will look to chop off the rim with Joel Embiid and to chop down on his PPS within the center with these secondary contests by Simmons and Butler.

To defend Kawhi Leonard one and one you want measurement, pace, energy, issues possessed by Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler, however you additionally want endurance, timing, and self management — within the common season Kawhi drew fouls on 14.four p.c of his shot makes an attempt (86th percentile for forwards). Philadelphia’s wing rotation was a weak spot all season and with Mike Scott in a strolling boot, Philadelphia merely can’t afford to have Simmons and Butler driving the pine with foul bother. Fortunately for Philadelphia, Butler and Simmons have elite observe data of defending with out fouling, solely committing fouls on 1.9 and a couple of.7 p.c on workforce defensive performs respectively.

Whereas Butler and Simmons will probably draw the majority of the project in opposition to Leonard, even Joel Embiid will discover himself switched onto Leonard at occasions. Towards Brookyln, Embiid regarded sluggish on perimeter protection, getting rotated on crossovers by each Levert and Dinwiddie on just a few events, probably brought on by the ache he’s been experiencing in his left knee because the All-Star break. Previous to Sport One, Embiid is off the harm report, hopefully that means that shaky knee has began to really feel higher. He’ll want to have the ability to follow Leonard and others on switches for Philadelphia’s protection to carry up.

Within the common season, Leonard and the Raptors feasted in transition, with The Klaw gaining an extra 5.5 factors per sport in quick break conditions. A part of Ben Simmons function in stopping Kawhi Leonard goes to not permitting him to get out on the run for these simple factors, Liberty Baller’s Matthew Del Rio brokedown Simmons’ offensive function in opposition to the two-time DPOY earlier this week. An important a part of stopping a participant of Leonard’s high quality isn’t permitting him to harm you for straightforward buckets.

Previous to the Sixers’ matchup with Brooklyn, I broke down how Philadelphia may take the same method to Nets’ southpaw D’Angelo Russell that Milwaukee used in opposition to MVP candidate James Harden. In a way more subdued method than the Bucks in opposition to Harden, Ben Simmons typically shaded D-Lo to his proper, reducing off his most popular aspect of the court docket. Whereas Leonard doesn’t have any issues going to both aspect, one has to surprise if Philadelphia will use a technique seen in opposition to the opposite main MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo. In two exhausting fought late season matchups with the Bucks, Brett Brown opted to protect Giannis one on one, refusing to ship exhausting assist, and as an alternative opted to let Giannis get what he needed whereas draping the Bucks shooters and blocking reducing lanes. Giannis obtained his (52 and 45 within the two video games) however the Sixers have been capable of take a sport from the Bucks on the highway whereas narrowly lacking out on one other win in South Philly.

The Sixers succeeded in taking out Nets’ All-Star D’Angelo Russell of their opening spherical matchup, however to take out the Raps they’ll must discover a strategy to restrict an All-NBA performer in Leonard. The Sixers efficiency in opposition to Kawhi won’t resolve this collection but when they will’t discover a strategy to comprise him, they may not have an opportunity to flee the Six with a win.

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