Inside Kawhi Leonard's shot-making genius and lethal playoff scoring

Breaking Down the Klaw: Offensive Report
Los Angeles Clippers v Phoenix Suns - Game Two
Los Angeles Clippers v Phoenix Suns - Game Two / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

Kawhi Leonard's regular season numbers don't jump off the page - 24.2 points per game (18th in the NBA), one measly 40-point outing as his season-high. In an era where 50-point explosions have become almost routine, his scoring seems pedestrian.

But playoff basketball is a different beast. The game slows down with an intense focus on controlling tempo, executing in the half-court, and manufacturing tough shots in tight games. This is where Kawhi's genius truly shines.

Career High Efficiency

While his point totals may not wow you, Kawhi's efficiency is simply startling. He's shooting a career-best 52.5% from the field, a scorching 43.5% from deep, and a lockdown 89.1% at the charity stripe (just shy of the 50/40/90 club).

His true shooting percentage of 63.1% is a robust +5.3% above league average.

Where does he get his buckets?

Everywhere. Kawhi tortures defenders from point-blank range (79.9% on shots 0-3 feet), the restricted area (53.2% on shots 3-10 feet), the midrange (50.2% from 10-16 feet), and beyond the arc. These are areas where 91% of his shots attempts are coming from.

He's equally lethal off the catch (scoring 1.13 points per spot-up possession) or creating for himself (a league-best 1.19 points per isolation possession).

46.5% of his twos are assisted, and 65% of his threes are assisted.

The Playoff Scoring Blueprint

Unsurprisingly, spot up shooting (1.13 PPP), transition (1.27 PPP), isolations (1.19 PPP), and pick-and-rolls (1.04 PPP) form the pillars of Kawhi's scoring diet. But his true genius lies in marrying efficiency with scoring versatility - the ultimate weapon in the playoffs when defenses tighten and uncontested looks are scarce.

Kawhi's play-type frequency on his offensive sets

  1. Spot-Up—18.21% of his plays come from spot-ups
  2. Isolation—17.1% of his plays are isolations
  3. Transition—17% of his plays come from transition
  4. Pick-and-Roll as the Ball Handler—16.7% of his plays come from pick-and-roll situations

Kawhi's true genius lies in marrying efficiency with scoring versatility - the ultimate weapon in the playoffs when defenses tighten and uncontested looks are scarce.. This versatility makes him a playoff-tested scorer.

Kawhi: The Tough Shot Maker

Perhaps what makes Kawhi most menacing is his ability to drill seemingly impossible shots. According to the advanced Shot Quality Model, only four players - KD, Luka, Shai, and Giannis - have added more points than Kawhi through their shot-making prowess.

This model evaluates a shooter's performance by comparing their actual shooting to the expected efficiency based on the difficulty of their attempts.

For example:

Easier Shot for Kawhi: Imagine Kawhi is positioned in the corner, a spot on the court from where he’s known to be an efficient shooter. Harden drives towards the rim, drawing Kawhi’s defender in to help stop the drive. Harden kicks it out to Kawhi, who catches it and immediately shoots a three-pointer (touch time less than 2 seconds). Since the defender is still closer to the basket trying to help on the drive, Kawhi is wide open (defender distance more than 6 feet away). This quick catch-and-shoot three with no defender close by is generally considered an easier shot.

Tougher Shot for Kawhi: In a different play, Kawhi gets the ball at the top of the key and decides to create a shot for himself. He dribbles the ball to try and shake off his defender (touch time more than 2 seconds). Despite his efforts, the defender sticks close to him (defender distance 0–2 feet, very tight defense). Kawhi then steps back and takes a contested fadeaway jump shot, which is a shot type that's harder to make. Shooting with a defender so close and after holding the ball for a longer period makes this a much harder shot.

So, the "Points Added" stat in the SSQM v2.0 model evaluates Kawhi Leonard's shooting performance by comparing his actual shooting efficiency with the expected efficiency based on the types of shots he takes.

While the model expected Kawhi's effective field goal percentage to be 51.0%, he's blitzed that mark at 58.6%. And he's scored 1042 points to the expected 907 points based off the shots he takes. Simply put, Kawhi consistently buries the shots that should be misses.

Kawhi Leonard has no weaknesses

An elite spot-up threat who can effortlessly space the floor. A cold-blooded isolation scorer who distorts defenses. Highly efficient in transition. A crafty ball-handler who surgically picks apart defenses. Kawhi has no perceivable holes in his scoring repertoire.

With James Harden's playmaking finally providing Kawhi a worthy floor general, something he has missed since Kyle Lowry on the Raptors, the Clippers boast unguardable scoring zenith.

While their play out of the all-star break has wavered, Kawhi's playoff pedigree is undeniable.

With a repertoire that renders him utterly unguardable, the Klaw dismantles even the stingiest playoff defenses through a masterful marriage of versatility and shot-making prowess. Whether slicing through seams in transition, methodically dissecting from the mid-range, raining off-the-dribble jumpers, or burying his patented step-back dagger, Kawhi wields a complete arsenal tailored for half-court domination.

Fueled by a coldly efficient scoring engine, one that squeezes every ounce of scoring value from each possession, Leonard's playoff potency is matched by very few in the NBA today.