Spurs Crush Clippers In Game 3: The 5 Things We Learned

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Kawhi Leonard is a two-way player

Apr 24, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) reacts after a shot against the Los Angeles Clippers in game three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Kawhi Leonard is now a Finals MVP, Defensive Player of the Future, the best player on one of the greatest franchises in sports history, and he’ still just 21 years old. His defense has always smothered players on the perimeter, but after continuing to improve his scoring ability every season, he broke out in game three with a career high 32 points.

It put an exclamation mark on the night where he’d already been acknowledged as the best perimeter defender in the game with his DPOY award, and proved that he’s becoming the elite two-way player that the Spurs so desperately need him to be.

Their eldest stars can’t last forever, and no matter how irrelevant Tim Duncan has made the ageing process, Leonard will, sooner rather than later, be the face of the franchise.

In just his fourth season, he’s led the league in steals per game (2.3) and defensive rating (96.4). He’s used his speed, 6’7″ frame and passion for defense to become the best perimeter defender in the league. In doing so, he’s been one of the main reasons why the Spurs ranked third in defensive efficiency this season.

There’s far more to his game than just his ability to smother the NBA’s best scorers, though.

Despite his playing time only increasing by just under three minutes from last season, Leonard has still managed to increase his scoring output by nearly 4 points per game. Now, putting up 16.5 a game, he’s led the Spurs in scoring and has hands down become their best two-way player.

He’s been more successful than ever from inside 3 feet this year, making 72.4 percent of his shots within that vicinity of the basket. In terms of his increased range, he took a career high 18.7 percent of his shots from between 10-16 feet out, making a highly respectable 48.1 percent of them. And to add even more variety to his game, he’s continued to improve his post-up game with his fadeaway jumping that seems to look better each night.

Leonard put all that together in game three to go 13-0f-18 from the field on the way to scoring a career high 32 points. And with the Clippers’ defense clearly struggling to contain him this series (as he’s now averaging 24.3 points on 63 percent shooting) we can expect to see more stellar two-way play from Kawhi tonight.