"Leonard fires from the corner. And Leonard goes down AGAIN. And he's in pain AGAIN in front of the Spurs bench." - Mike Breen
It has been 201 long days since Mike Breen made that call, and all of #SpursNation had to watch their beloved MVP, Kawhi Leonard, hobble off the court with an apparent ankle injury. At the time he went down, Kawhi had led the Spurs to a 76-55 advantage against the Warriors on the road, nearly midway through the 3rd quarter. From that point on, the Warriors outscored the Spurs 58-35 and went on to take a 113-111 win. The rest, as they say, is history. Warriors would go on to sweep the Spurs...yadda yadda yadda...and a "cupcake"/"snake" would win his first ever NBA Title. No, I'm not salty, why would you ever think that?
Here we are 201 days later, the 2017-18 season already 1/4 of the way completed, and Kawhi Leonard has yet to play in a single game. This injury is definitely a strange one. Coach Pop has even confirmed that it is something he has never really seen before. While it was his ankle that took the damage that terrible night against Golden State, that is not the injury that has kept him sidelined every game this season. During the offseason, September 30 to be exact, the team announced that Kawhi had been dealing with a quad injury and was going through rehab. With less than a month before the season started, Popovich assured us that Leonard would likely miss the preseason, but be good to go for the season opener. That obviously was not the case, and since then when asked about a possible return, Pop has given vague answers such as "sooner than later", but never a definitive date.
As of writing this, Spurs beat writer for the San Antonio Express-News, Jeff McDonald, broke the news that Kawhi would be accompanying the Spurs on their 2-game road trip to complete what Popovich was calling the final steps of the rehabilitation process.
Trust The...Spurs System?
Despite being without Kawhi for the first 21 games, to nobody's surprise, the Spurs have still found a way to stay competitive in the always tough Western Conference. They are currently sitting in 3rd place behind the Rockets and Warriors with a 14-7 record (only 1.5 games behind the Warriors). To be able to do that without their best player is pretty impressive, but honestly with Popovich at the reigns, should be we so surprised? This positive start for the Spurs could largely be contributed to the resurgence of LaMarcus Aldridge. After an offseason that saw rumors swirl about Aldridge being unhappy with his position on the team, he has started this season playing like the All-Star he was during his Portland days. He is currently off to one of the hottest starts in his career, shooting a career-best 52.1% from the field with an adjustedFG% of 53.7%. As of 11/28, he was ranked the 6th most efficient player in the league for high volume players (>20 POS/G) contributing 1.07 PTS/POS. He is leading the team in blocks, rebounds, and points by a mile. It is easier to see the improvement when we compare this year's numbers to the 1st quarter of last season. It'll definitely be interesting to see whether or not Aldridge will be able to keep this level of play up once Kawhi returns to the starting lineup.
While Aldridge is definitely carrying the largest weight of the load, that is not to take away from the stellar play of those around him. Pau Gasol is also having a fairly good season while he tries to prove he is worth the $48 million deal he signed this offseason. He is currently 2nd to Aldridge in points and rebounds while tied for 1st in blocks. The Spurs have not had to rely on their two big men so much since the days of the "Twin Towers", Duncan and Robinson.
Newly acquired Spur Rudy Gay has not only been a great contribution to the team but can possibly make a case for 6th man of the year if he is able to keep his level of play consistent throughout the remainder of the season. He's racking up 11.7ppg while shooting 46.3% from the field.
Possibly the biggest surprise of the season so far, aside from Aldridge's All-Star play, is the play of Kyle Anderson. Anderson, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, is off to a phenomenal start this year and taking complete advantage of his extra minutes with Kawhi out. He is currently averaging career highs in points (9.2), rebounds(6.2), assists(3.1), and steals(1.2). He's doing this while shooting a career-high 51% from the field and is leading the entire team in steals with 25. These numbers will most likely drop once Kawhi is thrown back into the mix, but Kyle has definitely proven himself to be a reliable person to go to when called upon. He is also setting himself up for a nice payday come this offseason.
This Spurs team as a whole has done really well this season. While each player has obviously made their own contributions, the four I listed above are (IN MY OPINION) the highlights so far. Coach Popovich continues to prove how he is one of the greatest coaches in the league. Not many would be able to lose their star player and still compete. That damn "Spurs system" is something else.
Just how long can the Spurs keep this success up without Kawhi though? For the sake of all of #SpursNation's peace of mind, let's hope that return is in fact sooner rather than later. The Texans were only able to hold down the Alamo for so long before it eventually fell.
But I'm sure you all remember that.