It was a comment Spurs fans have been clamoring to hear since, oh, about five games into Kawhi Leonard’s rookie season. Gregg Popovich, speaking last Sunday before Leonard would enjoy perhaps the best game of his young career, is finally ready to unleash his third-year small forward. “We want to up his minutes,” Popovich said. “He’s going to play more minutes (in the playoffs) than Tim Duncan does probably, more minutes than Manu Ginobili probably. This is his stretch run and he needs to be in shape for it. He’s never really been able to do this because it was a lockout season or we had to limit his minutes last year. This is the first time he’s been able to lay it out there.” And did Leonard ever lay it out there against the Grizzlies, sinking 12 of 13 shots en route to a career-high-tying 26 points. He earned a game score — a kind of single-serve efficiency measure — of 24.7 at Basketball-Reference.com, the highest in any his 219 NBA contests including the postseason. It was the latest tour de force from a player rapidly coming into his own since returning from a broken hand in late February. Leonard is averaging 14.7 points in the ensuing 21 games, knocking down 46.9 percent of his 3-pointers and 54.2 percent overall. He’s also averaging 1.9 steals and 1.3 blocks with a net rating of plus 17.3 points. The latter is an estimate of the average margin the Spurs are destroying their opponents by per 100 possessions when Leonard is on the court. (For reference, Ginobili leads all players with at least 1400 minutes at plus 15.2.) Invariably, most observers focus about 98 percent of their attention on offense. It’s understandable, especially with a player like Leonard who shows so many flashes of potential: A textbook turnaround here, a clever baseline pull-up there.
Popovich wants increased playoff role for Leonard
San Antonio Express-News | Apr 9