Kawhi Leonard can’t guard James Harden if the Spurs want to win
Wrote about how the Spurs will attempt to guard James Harden, and why Kawhi can’t be involved. An excerpt:
There were times during the Spurs’ first-round win over the Memphis Grizzlies where it became painfully obvious just how large a burden Leonard really shoulders. He essentially went mano a mano with Mike Conley down the stretch of Game 4, taking 12 of San Antonio’s final 19 shots, and scoring 24 of their 28 points from the 3:54 mark of regulation until the end of overtime. He ended up using 39.7 percent of the Spurs’ possessions in that game — something he was able to do because the opponent was a relatively lightweight offensive team. The Grizzlies lacked for secondary wing threats, so Leonard was able to cool his gears guarding the likes of Vince Carter or James Ennis, giving him an energy reservoir to tap into on the other side of the floor.
The Houston Rockets, to be blunt, are not the Grizzlies. Mike D’Antoni’s latest band of merry bombers runs one of the most supercharged operations in NBA history. The Rockets shattered the all-time NBA records for three-pointers made (1,181, which is 104 more than last season’s 73–9 Warriors) and attempted (3,306–527 more than this season’s Cavaliers); per Basketball-Reference, they were the tenth most efficient scoring team in NBA history. There are no possessions off. There is no taking an easy matchup and saving your energy.
The Spurs do need Leonard to conserve his energy, though, because he’s their single best shot at trying to keep up with the Rockets on offense. And to do that, as contradictory as it might sound, they’re going to have to minimize the amount of time the two-time Defensive Player of the Year spends guarding James Harden, Houston’s biggest threat.
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