The new Clippers coach said Sunday that Leonard will have opportunities to emulate Jordan and Bryant — two players Leonard has studied and patterned his midrange game after.
“We have put in two or three sets from the triangle and let Kawhi play in those spaces where Kobe and Jordan played in those spots as well,” said Lue, who played for Phil Jackson, where he learned the triangle. “[Leonard] loves those two players. He really respects and looks up to those guys, so we’re just trying to put him in positions [to succeed]. I was able to play with both those guys, but I also played in the triangle, so just trying to teach him that as well as teaching our team as well.”
Before Leonard became a free agent and signed with the Clippers in July 2019, former Clippers coach Doc Rivers was fined $50,000 for violating anti-tampering rules after he called Leonard the closest current player to Jordan. The Clippers signed Leonard in free agency after trading for Paul George.
Now Lue, who has replaced Rivers, will try to enhance Leonard’s midrange game by putting him in the Jordan and Bryant role in triangle sets. Leonard often attacks on offense by getting to his preferred midrange spots despite the NBA trend to shoot more 3s. Leonard also studied with Bryant before the former Lakers star died in a helicopter crash this year.
“I think it’s a lost art,” Lue said of the midrange game. “I’m a firm believer in, ‘why not work on what teams are giving up?’ Every team wants to give up the midrange shot, the midrange 2s, and why not continue to work on the shots that teams are giving up.
“When you see, even in late-game situations in the fourth quarter, the midrange shots are what wins the games. Those are the shots you’re gonna get in the playoffs as well, so it’s great having Lou [Williams], Kawhi, PG, and now Luke [Kennard], who can also make that midrange shot and if you shoot it at a high clip, it’s just as good as a 3 for me.”
Last season, Leonard ranked fourth in total midrange attempts (325) and shot 42.8% on those shots, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Leonard has shot 45% from midrange for his career. Paul George shot 37.2% from midrange on 164 attempts last season.
After the Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead and were stunned by the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the playoffs, Leonard said the Clippers had to improve their basketball IQ. Team owner Steve Ballmer opted to replace Rivers with Lue to improve in-game strategy and chemistry.
The Clippers went 0-3 in the preseason, but Leonard sees his team “building” off of Lue’s system. “If I can get us in our offense and make sure we [are] running our plays, at a good pace and we are making hard cuts and we’re reading our options out there, that makes me happy,” Leonard said last week.
“I just want to play better basketball this season. A lot of things last year [were] way too much iso basketball.”