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Rant: What's Wrong With Kawhi Leonard? - Upside Hoops

Rant: What’s Wrong With Kawhi Leonard?


The medical community uses BMI to determine the “proper”, “recommended” amount of weight that a person “ought” to carry based on factors like age, current weight, and height. I am not a doctor nor do I play one on TV but I think that Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard should look into what his BMI says. Of course, based solely on the eyeball test, Leonard is clearly as strong and fit as they come and has grown into his “grown man” body as a 10 year NBA veteran.

Somehow only listed at 6”7 and 230, Leonard, is built like a tank with broad shoulders and triceps he uses to regularly overpower opponents in the post or in transition. Leonard, however, also may have chronic knee problems that causes him to sit out games as he leans into a (body) load management system much to the chagrin of NBA fans and some pundits everywhere. Most notably, Leonard missed most of the 2017 – 2018 season with the Spurs and though he feasted throughout the 2018-2019 NBA season and playoffs, he missed 22 regular season games and ostensibly did much of his damage on one leg against both the Sixers and Bucks that postseason.

Leonard is an unquestionably decorated NBA player. He’s a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, two-time NBA Finals MVP, multiple time all-star and all-star game MVP. One of the initial knocks on his game in his career may have been his offense and shooting, but since then, those questions seem to be foolish. Leonard is really good at basketball and has proven as such throughout his career. So, why is this article called, “What’s Wrong With Kawhi Leonard”? Simple. Kawhi Leonard should lose some weight. Years ago, I read Ian Thompsen’s “The Soul of Basketball”(2018), a book that details many important figures in the history of the NBA including LeBron James. In it Thompsen writes:

“His first year, he was mid-260s and about 8 to 9 percent body fat,” Riley said of LeBron. “I thought he was a little bit heavy, and I asked him, ‘What if you got down to 250? Think about it. It’s 18 pounds. Let’s go and get an 18-pound weight right now and run around the court in it.’ I think there might have been one day we put a 10- or 15-pound weight jacket on him and had him run around in it. ‘What if you thought about getting to 250 and down to under 6 percent body fat? Speed and quickness, it would be better for your knees, you could jump a little bit higher … By year two in Miami, he would slim down to the mid-250s, and by the time he entered the back end of his career, surmised Riley, LeBron had reached 250”. 

Coincidentally, or maybe not so much, it wasn’t until Lebron’s Miami years that his shooting (improvement) was lauded. Maybe, LeBron’s mechanics were the (main) culprit during his first run with the Cavs, former NBA vet and Cleveland executive Raja Bell said as much on The Ryen Russillo Podcast not long ago. Maybe they weren’t.

With Kawhi though, poor mechanics haven’t seemed to be the rationale for any of his occasional shooting struggles. Even more, what about his recent struggles? Could it be something else? The mask he tried not to wear? Dead legs? Short season turnaround? Paul George’s hot start? What about weight? Last night,  the aforementioned George’s 39 points on 62% shooting and a strong performance from the newly acquired Luke Kennard and Nicolas Batum led the Clippers in their victory against a hot Suns team in a game that got close late, notwithstanding the 31 point Clipper lead in the first half.

Kawhi, who struggled mightily, scored just 15 and missed all but 4 field goals and a few free throws. I watched him miss ostensibly makeable looks short time and time again with seemingly little lift on turnarounds and other shot attempts. Then, I watched him miss looks long, ostensibly trying to make up for missing short with more arms on many of those same sorts of shots.

This season so far, Kawhi has shot 19%, 42%, 38.5%, 57%, and 52.9% from two. During the playoffs last season in the “Bubble”, Kawhi shot just 32% from three. Comparatively, he was 37% from three during his NBA Finals run with Toronto in 2018 – 2019. Still, despite his current shooting struggles, Kawhi has continued to progress as a playmaker which is a great sign for him and the Clippers. Kawhi dishes 5.8 assists per game and has multiple games with an assist to turnover ratio of 5 to 0. However, would Kawhi find a more consistent shooting stroke (again) if he didn’t carry as much weight around? 


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