Column: Why Kawhi Leonard has a strong chance to make history in the 2020 NBA playoffs

Kawhi Leonard takes the mic to give his speech following his jersey being hung up in the rafters at Viejas Arena on Feb. 1.

Kareem Jones

Kawhi Leonard takes the mic to give his speech following his jersey being hung up in the rafters at Viejas Arena on Feb. 1.

by Dustin Magallanes, Staff Writer

From a historic championship run with the Toronto Raptors in 2019 to another playoff appearance this year, forward Kawhi Leonard entered this season with a new team, new city but  the same unwavering desire to win a championship.

In his inaugural season with the Los Angeles Clippers, Leonard has been able to deliver arguably his best statistical regular season with 27.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game at a 47% clip.

With a talented team at his disposal, Leonard has taken the next step in becoming a more refined playmaker, increasing his assists by 10% since last season. With a newfound eye for creating offense along with his usual elite defense, Leonard has demonstrated his overall growth since his days at San Diego State. 

This season comes with a new set of implications. Not only does Leonard have a chance to win a long-awaited championship banner for the Clippers, but he also has the opportunity to become the first player in NBA history to win a championship and Finals MVP for three different organizations. 

Organizationally, the Clippers have yet to make an appearance in the Western Conference Finals—let alone the NBA Finals—which begs the question as to whether or not they have enough experience to break new ground in the playoffs. Although Leonard is the only Clipper that has NBA Finals experience, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has accumulated his fair share of championship experience during his nine-year tenure with the Boston Celtics.

Rivers’ ability to maximize a player’s offensive potential showed as he led the Celtics to winning the 2008 NBA Championship. Rivers’ and Leonard’s playoff experience combined with one of the deepest rosters in recent memory have allowed the Clippers to be one the favorites to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy when the season is all done and dusted. 

What lies ahead for the Clippers is a loaded Western Conference that has a mix of young, budding contenders and experienced, veteran-laden rosters with championship aspirations. However, the overall versatility of their roster gives the Clippers an unique edge over any team when it comes to reaching the promised land.

The Clippers have the ability to throw out a variety of different lineups that are specifically catered to how their opponent lines up and the current circumstance of the game.

If the Clippers need to protect a lead, they have a lineup jam-packed with defensive specialists to rotate in. In addition to the two-time Defensive Player of the Year Leonard, the Clippers have a bevy of proven defenders in guards Patrick Beverley and Landry Shamet and forwards Paul George, Montrezl Harrell and Ivica Zubac—all of whom are capable of locking down the opposing team’s star players regardless of position.

If the other team is playing small ball, the Clippers have a lineup ready to match it. A smaller lineup with guards Reggie Jackson and Lou Williams alongside George, Leonard and forward JaMycal Green has been effective in allowing the Clippers to score easy points on the fastbreak and spread the floor to the 3-point line. This versatility allows the Clippers to have the upper hand against virtually any team in the league.

The aforementioned depth that Leonard has to work with is a crucial advantage for LA. Playing alongside George as well as the highest scoring bench duo in NBA history in Harrell and Williams ensures that Leonard doesn’t have to carry the load offensively in order for the Clippers to win ball games. The trade deadline acquisition of forward Marcus Morris, who was the leading scorer on a faltering Knicks team, further added firepower to an already stacked Clippers offense. 

With an opportunity to cement his name in NBA history and to continue to climb the echelon of NBA greats, Leonard has as good of a chance as anyone at adding another championship to his resume. The Clippers with their versatility and depth make them strong favorites to outmatch any opponent in the playoffs.

It should come as no surprise if come September, we see Leonard once again standing on the podium with the Larry O’Brien trophy in one hand and the Bill Russell Finals MVP trophy in the other.

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