By Mackenzie Rivers
Kawhi has recorded five or more assists in 10 of his last 11 games, and his O/U player prop line for assists is usually around 4.5 or 5..... Why? I believe it may be because he is playing LESS. Let me explain...
Among the NBA elite players, is there a correlation between playing extended minutes and shooting the ball more often? Conversely, do players on minutes restrictions shoot less frequently, even on a minutes adjusted basis? There are several reasons why playing time and scoring per minute may be correlated.
Chief among those reasons are the professional basketball players who get more minutes in order to get into a better shooting rhythm. Also, players with more minutes ("opportunities") feel more comfortable taking bad shots because they know it's a smaller percentage of their overall shot profile. Time to dive in.
Looking at the best "Shooting Guards in NBA History" - Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade - in seemingly every case, the year in which they shot and scored the most on a per minute basis was also the year they played the most minutes per game. Seems simple right? Well let's break it all down below:
~ Career High, 37 PPG
~ Career High 33 Points Per 36
~ Career High 40 MPG (tied with season after)
Dwyane Wade ‘08-'09:
~ Career High 30 PPG
~ Career High 28 Points Per 36 Minutes
~ Career High: 39 MPG
Kobe Bryant ‘05-'06:
~ Career High 35 PPG
~ Career High 31.1 Points Per 36 Minutes
~ Career High 41 MPG (tied with 1 other season)
Why Is This Relevant Today?
Well frankly it's Kawhi Leonard, who is certainly on the pantheon of great shooting guards despite his designation by some as a small forward, and has been back in action for about a week. Since returning, Kawhi is playing on a minutes restriction of approximately 30 minutes per game, 4 lower than his 34 minutes per game season average. His recent performance and style of play is also indicative of this trend, which explains the change in his statistical profile and why it is likely to continue in the short term.
Head Coach Ty Lue said after the Clippers beat the Los Angeles Lakers the other night that Kawhi’s minute restriction does not allow him to play a full quarter as he is normally accustomed to - and the result has been Kawhi shooting substantially less and assisting significantly more. The player prop market has not caught up with, either. Provided his minutes restriction does not change, there may be value in in playing Kawhi under points and over assists for the remainder of the regular season. Here are the numbers:
Kawhi Scoring Less
In the four games Kawhi has played since April 10th, he is averaging only 9.5 field goal attempts per game, nearly half of his season average (17.6 field goal attempts per game). Over those four games, Kawhi has averaged 16 points per game and scored fewer than 20 points each time for the L.A. Clippers as they round out the season. More importantly, bettors have cashed Leonard's under points prop in each game.
Kawhi Assisting More
Kawhi Leonard is assisting more frequently, sure, but he's not necessarily passing more. Too often assisting is conflated with the more generic term of "passing." Case in point - Steph Curry passes a lot more often than he assists, because he often gives the ball up early in the possession while looking to get the ball back for a jump shot. But Kawhi Leonard is not passing more. Rather, he has changed his style of passing, kicking out more often at the end of possession to the Clippers’ bevy of 40%+ three-point shooting marksmen, all the while allowing him to rack up more assists per game. Kawhi has indeed posted five or more assists in 10 of his last 11 games, including all four in which he has played for L.A. on a minutes restriction. During this period, sports bettors have also cashed his over assist prop in 10 of his last 11 games. Kawhi is averaging 6.4 APG over his last 11 and 6.5 APG over his last four games.
But The Playoffs Are A Whole Different Story
Moving forward, there will also likely be opportunity to play Kawhi over points once the NBA Playoffs begin. Over his last two playoff runs Kawhi has averaged 29.7 points per game, which is almost three points more than his regular season average. If Kawhi sees his minutes go up in the playoffs, recognizes the moment, and starts shooting more often (as expected), then there should be plenty of opportunity to play his points prop over. This is a situation we will continue to monitor and track behind the scenes here at the Betting Predators, and a topic we will surely revisit come the start of the first and second rounds.