In addition to Dwyane Wade’s praise of Paul George, some more Clippers recognition came on Tuesday from the last place anyone would suspect: Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq, who just a couple weeks ago expressed his disbelief in the Clippers as a true challenger to his Lakers, showed some love to Kawhi Leonard’s approach to the game.
“I wish I was a kid right now, and I would watch a guy like Kawhi, because he plays at his own pace,” O’Neal said at halftime of the Nets-Clippers game. “Everybody’s not going to be able to jump high like LeBron or do the things that D-Wade did, but if you play at your own pace and play your own game, you can do this...So all the young kids out there that are watching all the superstars, you need to watch this guy.”
It’s a great point; while Leonard is an athletic freak, he doesn’t rely solely on his leaping ability and speed to create his offense. He probes, feeling out his defender in the post and at the elbow before finding a flaw and exploiting it.
It’s interesting that Shaq would take note of this aspect of Leonard’s game. As a player, O’Neal would also control the pace of the game. Though they are completely different players who play different positions (Shaq has about six inches and 100 pounds on Leonard), they both operate out of the post and force defenses to adjust to their styles. Shaq was also overpowering and ridiculously athletic, but patience and pace were at the core of his game.
Leonard is having an excellent season, averaging 26.3 points and a career-high 5.4 assists. It’s nice to see that the Big Aristotle is fair, and can recognize excellence in addition to dishing out criticism.