Playoffs 2021

Stat Just Happened: LA Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard has turned into a one-on-one assassin

"Stat Just Happened" is our new series where we'll pair an important stat with how it actually unfolded on the floor. Our aim? To answer key questions, uncover hidden truths and peel back the curtain on why some numbers matter more than others.

5.4

According to NBA.com, that's how many points per game Kawhi Leonard is averaging in isolation in the playoffs.

Why is that notable? A couple of reasons.

One, it places him near the top of the league. The only players currently ahead of Leonard in isolation scoring are Luka Doncic (7.7), Kevin Durant (8.1), Damian Lillard (11.8), James Harden (12.7) and Jayson Tatum (13.5), three of whom - Doncic, Lillard and Tatum - were eliminated in the first round. Leonard has been incredibly efficient as well, ranking in the 79th percentile with an average of 1.16 points per possession. (That would have ranked him in the 94th percentile in the regular season, for what it's worth).

Second, this is the most iso-heavy version we've ever seen of Leonard. He's averaging a similar amount of isolation possessions as year's past, but he's never scored at such a high rate. Per NBA.com, the most points Leonard has ever averaged in isolation in the regular season is 4.1 (2018-19). The most he's ever averaged in the playoffs, meanwhile, is 4.6 (2018-19).

Time will tell if Leonard can keep it up, but he's been a one-on-one assassin to this point of the playoffs.

Kawhi Leonard's points per game in isolation (NBA.com)
Regular Season Playoffs
2015-16 2.1 1.3
2016-17 2.7 3.3
2017-18 1.1 N/A
2018-19 4.1 4.6
2019-20 3.9 4.4
2020-21 3.5 5.4

What's interesting about Leonard is the way he's cooking teams in isolation.

As I wrote earlier in the season, Leonard has tapped into his inner Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan under Tyronn Lue by operating more out of the pinch post. His post touches haven't changed a whole lot compared to previous postseasons, but his elbow touches are way up, which plays to his strengths as one of the league's best midrange shooters.

Get this: Leonard has made 27 shots from midrange in the playoffs, tying him with Devin Booker for third-most in the league. The crazy part? He's attempted only 41 shots from that distance, so he's shooting - wait for it - 65.9 percent from midrange through 11 games.

If Leonard is given space, he'll use his 7-foot-3 wingspan to rise up over defenders.

But if his defender presses up on him or gets a little jumpy out of fear of him shooting from midrange, he'll bulldoze his way to the basket.

It helps that the LA Clippers have gone all-in on small ball, because surrounding Leonard with four perimeter players gives him an incredible amount of space to work with. It also simplifies his options as a facilitator when teams load up on him.

The Clippers were quietly the most accurate 3-point shooting team in the league this season. Double Leonard, and you run the risk of a very capable shooter getting open.

Leonard has already assisted on 30 3-pointers in the playoffs, tying him with Doncic for second-most in the league. The only player ahead of the two of them is Trae Young (33).

Of course, Leonard is a threat himself from 3-point range. The difference this postseason is he is knocking down 3-pointers off the dribble at a high rate.

After connecting on 32.8 percent of his pull-up 3-point attempts in the regular season, Leonard is up to 42.9 percent in the playoffs. The opposite happened last season, as he went from making 34.2 percent of his pull-up 3s in the regular season to 25.0 percent in the playoffs. The latter ranked him near the bottom of the league.

Leonard still isn't shooting them in the same volume as the likes of Lillard, Doncic and Harden, but he's already hit some timely pull-up 3s in these playoffs.

Basically, Leonard has an answer to pretty much anything teams can throw at him. To tie a bow on it, let three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert demonstrate.

That much-improved pull-up 3? It keeps defenders honest.

That automatic midrange jumper? It keeps defenders off balance.

That grown man strength? It helps Leonard finish among the trees.

Leonard getting his against the best defender in the NBA should tell you all you need to know about how difficult he is to keep up with on an island, but it all contributes to that one key number...

5.4

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