Building a Beast: The Secret Behind Kawhi Leonard
The San Antonio Spurs ONLY All Star, Kawhi Leonard, made his case for NBA MVP even stronger last night in a 112-110 victory over the I10 rival Houston Rockets. Leonard posted his 23rd 30 point game this season, the franchise's most since 01-02 when a guy named Tim Duncan tacked on a mere 19. While many around the league are dead set in crowning James Harden or Russell Westbrook, thus fitting the "more sexy" narrative, one with any common knowledge of the game would have to at least consider Kawhi Leonard in the conversation. But the debate of who will, or should, or might, be the league's MVP is not the point of this article. The topic of discussion is, how did Kawhi even make it to the point of being in the discussion? How did a guy, drafted in the tail end of the lottery and then traded away for George Hill become a two time defending Defensive Player of the Year, a Finals MVP and an MVP Candidate, at the ripe old age of 25 to boot? There's the obvious answers. Gregg Poppovich and RC Buford have had a track record for finding diamonds in the rough. And Kawhi did have Tim Duncan as a mentor his first five seasons in the league. But there is another piece to the Spurs puzzle that seldom gets talked about yet is just as much a part of the franchise's success on the court as Pop and RC.
When Kawhi Leonard came into the league in the 2011 NBA Draft, many Spurs fans were not happy, its not the first time Spurs fans weren't happy with Pop, but I digress. Either way, Spurs fans were pleasantly surprised when they saw what Kawhi had to offer. Here was a twenty year old kid who could play defense with the best of them. Still, his offensive game was shotty at best, 7.9 ppg, 49% from the field, 38% from three and a dismal 77% from the stripe. It looked as though Pop had still traded up but Leonard looked nowhere near the next franchise player.
Enter Chip Engelland.
Nicknamed "the shot doctor" Engelland is, quite possibly the best shooting coach in the NBA. In just six seasons, he has been able to turn Kawhi from a proficient defender to a top ten scorer, tripling his points scored (with 20 games left still). Leonard also has seen major improvements in his mid range game under Engelland going from 39%-52% from 3-10 ft, 32% to 44% from 10-16ft and 36%-48% from 16+ft. Sure, I guess you could argue that Leonard is a once in a lifetime phenom the Spurs got lucky on. At least, you could argue that if the countless success stories under Engelland weren't a thing (those pesky analytics).
In his tenure with the Spurs, we've seen Engelland transform a once trick Tony Parker into a mid range jump shooting machine, a miserable free throw shooting Tim Duncan into a respectable 71%. A 25% college three point shooter in Patty Mills to a solid 41%. Danny Green, who shot 27% from three in his first season and is now the NBA Finals record holder for most three pointers made (if only someone could teach him to dribble now). As a matter of fact, you can look back at most of the players who came in under the Chip Engelland shooting regime and see a drastic increase in efficiency from the field.
Take a deeper look into the success stories of Engelland in this Grantland article.
While Pop and RC get the recognition, and rightfully so, Chip Engelland has quietly turn the San Antonio Spurs into n offensive juggernaut, solidifying them as a Championship threat for years to come.