Season 51, Game 31
San Antonio 109, Los Angeles Clippers 91
21-10, 3rd in the West
We need to talk about Kawhi Leonard.
He looks…average. In Kawhi’s case, “average” means “pretty bad”. More accurately, he just doesn’t look like the Kawhi we know and love. He lacks any real explosion on either end of the court. His defensive prowess is missing. On offense, his shot looks solid (still), but he’s not attacking the rim or gaining any advantages in his individual match-ups. Perhaps most concerning is that he looks passive.
We can chalk all of this up to his return from injury. And yes, he (and the team) should be taking it slowly. But with an injury shrouded in so much mystery and taking more time to return from than a guy who literally ruptured the same tendon, it makes one fear the worst.
Perhaps this is more of a mental injury than a physical one.
And if Kawhi loses his mental edge, he could lose what truly makes him special.
Pulling out, the team also looks completely disjointed when Kawhi is on the floor. It makes sense that introducing such a critical element back into a team 28 games into the season will really put a wrench in the works. Particularly with LaMarcus Aldridge’s stellar season, it’s hard to find the right balance of easing Kawhi back in and actually trying to play competitive NBA basketball and win games.
I know it doesn’t mean much, but it does mean something: right now, the Spurs are better off without Kawhi. Now, long-term this is a ridiculous notion. So to get where the team needs to be, they need to take these growing pains. But I never thought I’d see such an ordinary Kawhi Leonard again.
Here’s hoping he finds himself soon.
On a brighter note, DeJounte Murray is playing the best basketball of his career. He had a hot start to the season, but quickly cooled off and found a place at the end of the bench. But in the last few games, Pop has given him more minutes and responsibility, and Murray has rewarded him–and the team–for it.
He’s always had supreme athletic gifts. But you can tell that the NBA game is finally starting to make sense to him. He knows how to use his speed effectively, but he’s also learned how to use his brakes. He’s starting to understand the offense. His jumper looks miles better. He’s aggressive and tenacious on defense.
His insertion into the game midway through the 3rd quarter almost single-handedly turned the it in the Spurs’ favor. He breathed energy into the team, and they were able to break the game wide open.
What I really like is that Pop is starting to play him with Patty Mills more. It’s obvious that all three of the team’s PGs deserve minutes, so the best way to do that is to double some of them up. In Patty, Murray has a perfect back court mate. Mills plays offense more like a 2, but defends like a 1. With Murray’s length, he can defend more like a 2, while still playing the 1 on offense.
However, with another PG out there, he’s not solely responsible for PG duties. At points in the game, Pop also played the pair with Manu Ginobili, giving the team 3 ball-handlers and creators on the floor at once. It’s a line-up that could be really effective against many team’s smaller line-ups.
It’s enjoyable to watch Murray grow week to week, game to game. It’s similar to the way we were able to watch Kawhi grow in his early years. They both share the same drive to be great and the work ethic to ensure it.
Here’s hoping Murray moves along a similar path.
The Spurs start a 3-game pre-Chirstmas road trip Wednesday night in Portland.
Go Spurs Go.