Although data analytics dislike them, a lot of the NBA’s biggest moments have been midrange shots. From Michael Jordan’s bucket to beat the Utah Jazz in game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals to LeBron James’ winner against the San Antonio Spurs in game 7 of the NBA Finals in 2013, midrange shots can be clutch to win games. When mastered it can win NBA Championships and Kawahi Leonard has done just that.
Kawahi wasn’t always like this. He was often criticized for his inability to shoot but it didn’t faze him, he said he would just work hard and prove the doubters wrong. The 2019 NBA Champion did just that and has become one of the deadliest players in the league, his ability to supplier the winner can never be undervalued.
In his first few years in the NBA, he was a 3-point corner shooter. However, each year he has continued to work and add to his offensive arsenal. This led to him adding the midrange pull-up. He is one of the most complete scorers in modern history for the NBA, but it is his pull-ups that really set him apart.
Leonard can dribble into traffic, emerge with the ball in the midrange and produce a pull-up shot. He uses his athleticism and experience to know when to shoot which has seen him be one of the best at tough shots.
Out of his 227 midrange pull-ups last season, the expected Field Goal% was just 41%. Despite this, Kawahi Leonard converted 49%, this emphasises his ability to pull these shots off from difficult situations. However, this is a trait that is similar in the league’s best players so what makes Kawahi Leonard so special?
To put it simply, he’s doing things that hasn’t been done since Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. The combination of the footwork, the pivots, the jab steps, the fadeaways all make him look like an excellent player, but he does this consistently in the big moments. His ability to do all of this really stands out in an era full of 3-point shots and paint shots.
In 2015/16, there were 4,000 more midrange pull-ups in the league than there were in 2018/19. This fall is about 21%, this is huge especially in such a short period of time.
Kawahi is pulling off shots that Jordan and Bryant would be proud of. In a way, the former Toronto Raptors star is preserving the aesthetics that those two made famous.