After returning to the court after surgery and rehab for an ACL injury, Kawhi Leonard decided to come off the bench in the Clippers’ recent game versus the Los Angeles Lakers.
The SLAM 240 cover star opened up about why coming off the bench was the correct choice. In a post-game interview with Ohm Youngmisuk, Leonard said the following;
“You gotta gradually play minutes in order to get the ACL strong,” Leonard said. “Once you start playing 38 minutes first game, it could easily weaken up, but I’m listening to the doctor with that. It’s a long season. We wanna get in the playoffs and want me to play in the playoffs.”We must also remember that Leonard missed the entirety of last season with an ACL injury, which is no small feat to return from. Returning from an injury like that is not easy, and some players never return the same. Leonard also mentioned that the idea came about from looking at data and running simulations in practice subbing in and out of games.
The NBA season is still young, and if Leonard and the Clippers want to maximize their chances come playoff time, they need their stars healthy.
When asked by another reporter what it was like to come into the game in the middle of the second quarter, Leonard said he didn’t “think 15 minutes would be long” after waiting “82 games last year.”
“I waited 82 games last year, so I didn’t think 15 minutes would be long. This is how I started my career. Act like I was in foul trouble, and once I check in the second quarter, it’s time to play basketball.”
In just 21 minutes off the bench, Leonard played well. The Klaw dropped 14 points and seven rebounds on 6-12 shooting in the Clippers’ 103-97 season-opening win against their hometown rivals.
No timetable was revealed for how long Leonard plans to come off the bench instead of starting. However, we all know the old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and if this is the strategy that guarantees a winning season plus a healthy Leonard come playoff time for the Clippers, plus the fact that it was a decision being considered by both team and player then why be in a rush to change it?