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 33 Points Per 36
~ Career High 40 MPG (tied with season after)
~ Career High 28 Points Per 36 Minutes
~ 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: