Kawhi Leonard’s ascent from late-lottery pick to MVP candidate is one of the most stunning stories to take place in the NBA over the last several years, and a big part of the San Diego State’s recipe for success was the way he improved his shot.
Leonard went from shooting 25 percent on 3-pointers during his college career into a capable shooter from deep who currently drains 36.7 percent of his threes, forcing defenders to guard him at the arc, leaving them prone to getting blown past.
That type of improvement doesn’t happen by accident, and in Jonathan Abrams’ must-read oral history of Leonard’s quiet journey from little-recruited high schooler to top-five player in the NBA, it sounds like the Spurs coaching staff had a very specific plan in mind to help their athletic and hard-working wing become a knockdown shooter, one involving a name that fans of the Los Angeles Lakers will certainly recognize:
Chip Engelland (assistant coach, Spurs): “Whether a billion hours, a million hours or a thousand hours, everyone has worked on their shot, and every shot’s personal, and not everybody’s willing to change. I didn't have time to spend and get to know him and get personal with his shot.
“I used Richard [Jefferson] as a model and also used Kobe Bryant, because Kobe Bryant has really good shooting form. I didn’t know if Kawhi was a Laker fan or not or a Kobe fan, but you had to respect his work and his shooting. So, we used pictures and video of them. I showed him his pictures of where his was, similar to where Richard was. Kawhi’s smart, and he goes, ‘Let's go to work, let's do it.’”
This isn’t the first time Leonard has been rumored to be channeling his inner-Kobe. Over the summer, there were reports he had worked out with Bryant, and it appears that whether or not those happened, Lakers fans wouldn’t be wrong to assume they’re seeing at least a little bit of Kobe in Kawhi’s game.