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Watch the Tape: Kawhi? More like Ka-Wow!

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A deep dive into the impressive arsenal of the man guaranteed to bring the Raptors an NBA title. (Guarantee void in Ontario.) (For now.)

NBA: Preseason-Brooklyn Nets at Toronto Raptors Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Watch the Tape is a new Raptors HQ feature that will teach you absolutely nothing about basketball, how to watch it better, or how it’s properly played. It WILL take you on a tour of some of the finest, and most random Raptors related (and sometimes adjacent) material out there.

My original plan here was to start waaaay off the basketball beaten track by doing a deep-dive of the disturbing Episode #5 of Serge Ibaka’s Ma-Fuzzy Chef.

Disturbing because clearly, for anyone who has watched the video, it is a warning of the Raptors’ darkest time-line where C.J. Miles has been bullied off the Bench Mob, and Pascal Siakam, without the leavening influence of Jakob Poeltl, has gone full dark side.

But, apparently people like reading you know, actual basketball-related things on this site, so I will start off with my other, other idea to kick off this column — Kawhi Leonard.

As befits his status as a Top-10 (5?) player, there is no shortage of tape on Kawhi Leonard. I needed something that showcased the full range of his basketball powers. After spending tireless seconds digging through video after video, I finally settled on one that was relatively close to the top of my You-Tube search, but not so close that it made it look like I didn’t do any research.

To wit:

Now, to divide this video up into something that would be easy for you to peruse, I have decided to place everything I saw into one of the following categories: Dunk, D, Deebo, Dimes, Drives, and Dat’s Wet. (Look, I had a theme, and I needed to keep it going, alright?)

I will gather the highlights in these categories, so that you can easily move through the video to preview the elements of the Kawhi-aissance (my official branding for the 2018-19 Toronto Raptors season — copyright pending) that interest you the most. For a few of the clips I will dig more deeply, shading each moment with nuance, and understanding, or pointing out that Marc Gasol just had a major shit-fit.

We will start, as the philistines would, with the part of the game that gets the most outsized attention, and therefore seems the most ANTI-Kawhi...

DUNKS:

0:13-0:28, 0:50-0:56, 1:12-1:21, 1:22-1:43, 2:03-2:22, 2:23-2:47, 3:34-3:44, 4:42-5:09, 5:10-5:29, 6:09-6:19, 6:30-6:39, 8:03-8:24, 9:49-9:56, 10:36-10:43, 10:53-11:12, 11:28-11:37

The video opens and closes with Kawhi taking those extra-man sized hands and cramming all over some unfortunate fools. All of the dunks in this section are impressive (it’s a highlight tape), but it’s clear that while Kawhi enjoys a good dunk, this is not the part of the basketball game that makes his soul sing. This is just what must be done on the field of battle to tear out the heart of the other side’s Captain, and send his troops screaming into the darkness, surrounded by the bodies of their fellows.

The best dunks in this section are as follows:

1:22-1:43: Kawhi gets out on the break and finishes an absolute monster one-hander over a game Kenneth Faried (if “a game Kenneth Faried” isn’t the phrase that most neatly encapsulates a career then I don’t know what is. “An occasionally attentive JaVale McGee”?).

(This dunk gets bonus points because also-Raptor Danny Green’s defense started the play, and Kawhi unknowingly did a shout-out to one half of the dudes he’s replacing here in Toronto by ending it with a very Jakob Poeltl-esque stumble at the end.)

2:23-2:47: This dunk is simple yet classic — just like Leonard — until the end when he shows he has the strength of a thousand suns by smashing the ball through the hoop over Noah Vonleh like he didn’t exist.

5:10-5:29: This dunk is vicious on his own, but made more so by the fact KAWHI SWITCHES HANDS IN MID-FLIGHT!!!

...

Words fail.

6:20-6:29: A great dunk on the run, with a sneakily high level of difficulty given Steven Adams size and shocking lateral quickness (if Terrence Ferguson and Jerami Grant both make mini-leaps, I’m calling OKC, and that D of theirs, as the real dark-horse threat to knock off the Warriors in the West.)

6:30-6:39: Kawhi makes a great cut, then smoothly flushes one. This dunk is made better by the fact that Leonard lost JaVale McGee on the cut, while McGee was looking right at him — sorry, “an occasionally attentive JaVale McGee” (tm).

10:36-10:43: Another great cram in traffic. This one is really here for the end where a disgusted Marc Gasol tries to throw the ball through the stanchion.

10:53-11:12: I was legit surprised that Leonard threw this down, especially with such force. It seemed like he was too far from the hoop and then one big step and those arms extended and WAP!

This dunk also gets play for the pitch-perfect description of Leonard’s game by the broadcast team: “Kawhi Leonard just plays at his own pace...”

It’s true. You watch this tape enough and you realize that Leonard, like Delon Wright in a way, has his own, slightly off-kilter way of playing. Everything he does seems to be a half-beat before or after the defense is expecting and makes his whole game that much more effective.

Well, we’ve finished the razzle-dazzle crowd-pleasing for the rabble stuff. Now it’s time to move on to something more... nuanced.

DEEBO:

0:29-0:35, 3:45-3:52, 5:30-5:38, 5:49-5:58, 6:40-6:48, 7:52-8:01, 8:25-8:34, 8:35-8:44, 8:56-9:17, 9:18-9:29, 9:30-9:49, 9:49-9:56, 10:09-10:35

This section is the security blanket, the coca with mini-marshmallows, the favourite sweater, or child-hood movie. It reminds you that though things change, and can never be what they once were, that life is also cyclical, and oddly comforting if you’re willing to embrace that change.

Basically, this is Kawhi scoring the ball in a whole bunch of ways that feel like how DeMar did that shit.

0:29-0:35: The first one emphasizes how similar Leonard and DeRozan’s game can be. The deliberate half-speed drive. The shockingly quick pull-up. The nothing but net finish. The only two major differences here are that a) KLAW adds an interesting little hesitation just before the shot, which I never remember seeing DD use (nothing practical here, just aesthetics), and b) this is a late game shot that goes in — which, while DeMar definitely started to hit more regularly late in his Raps career, never seemed even close to a given (tho’ that shot to beat the Knicks over Rose was nice.)

5:30-5:36: Classic Deebo. Hard drive. Get cut off. Pull it back. Take a moment. Rise up. Wap!

6:40-6:48: Another DeRozan-esque play — fading into the middle of the floor for a fall-away jimmy. Look closer though, and watch how Kawhi executes a ball fake with one hand! It’s a tiny thing, but few guys in the NBA can pull that off. Does it affect Devin Booker? I don’t know, but that’s gotta be weird for a defender to see.

9:49-9:56: Another great DeMar impersonation. Backs in Paul George, and then smoothly rolls off of him into the mid-range. What struck me here is how much bigger Kawhi is than George, he used his size, and that roll to keep George well off of him. Against DeRozan, it feels like George’s size advantage means he is more able to jump forward and contest that shot.

10:09-10:35: The bucket is nice, though what gets this into the list is the announcer’s desperate attempts to not fall headfirst into hyperbole by comparing a bucket in a mid-season game against the Memphis Grizzlies to THE SHOT, and totally failing.

May we all have that irrational level of love for K-Leo by the end of the year.

Alright, now it’s time to turn our attention to the best part of Leonard’s game — his insane ability to disrupt his opponent’s every move.

D

0:40-0:47, 3:03-3:26, 7:02-7:06, 7:07-7:17, 7:44-7:51, 8:45-8:55, 10:44-10:52, 11:13-11:26

This section is shorter than you’d think, although there is no shortage of video evidence of Kawhi’s game-changing prowess on this side of the court, but it still has more than enough to satiate thirsty Raptors fans, dreaming of how destructive Toronto’s defense has a chance to be. Me, I think a Pascal Siakam, Leonard, OG Anunoby, Delon Wright and Kyle Lowry collection might be the best — but the fact that there are figuratively endless combinations to consider makes me inappropriately excited.

0:40-0:47: It seems so casual, just a little swipe here, a poke there, and then it’s off to the races. But this is against Step Curry the most devastating ball-handler alive (and sure, Curry might have flown too close to the sun here, but whatever, Leonard is an animal.)

3:03-3:26: Kawhi victimizes another MVP. This time it’s James Harden who mistakenly thinks he’s got enough room to lay one in. It’s not quite peak LBJ, but since when has Kawhi cared for style-points anyway?

7:44-7:51: Our man has been compared to an octopus who makes even trying to get the ball up the floor a nightmare. I feel like this move, on All-NBA talent Jrue Holiday proves that comparison nicely.

8:45-8:55: Here too. Bonus points for the: “Here comes, K-Wow!” call, as well as the fact that 150,000 T-Wolves fans just vomited in their mouth thinking that Wiggins is their lead perimeter guy once Butler leaves.

11:13-11:26: Everything that makes Kawhi so good defensively is on display here. He hounds Harden from behind, makes a quick, but controlled reaction to get back to run Ariza off the line. That control allows him to keep from bowling Ariza over while pursuing the drive, and finally keeps him in perfect position to erase Clint Capela’s dunk attempt. All that, and he grabs the rebound, goes coast-to-coast and finishes on a wicked up and under.

This is the play Raptors fans dream of at night.

Alright, sure, he’s good at this “defense” thing, but what about putting the ball on the floor to make plays for himself and others? Can Leonard do that?

(Oh, I think you know the answer.)

DRIVES:

0:02-:0:12, 0:57-1:11, 2:57-3:02, 3:27-3:33, 4:31-4:41, 5:39-5:48, 6:09-6:19, 7:18-7:30, 7:31-7:43

This section isn’t heavy on And-1 style tomfoolery, but it showcases the fact that Leonard can get into the heart of a set defense and cause major problems.

0:02-0:12 - Ok, ignore what I just said, because this cross-over move is MEAN, and the finish past shot-blocking savant Steven Adams is dirty.

0:57-1:11: Not a dribble per-se, but when I saw this play I wrote down COURT VISION!!!!

3:27-3:33, 5:39-5:48, 7:18-7:35 - all these come in a section I like to call ‘Relentless Driving’, where Kawhi just refuses to let the defence stop him. My fave of the group is the 5:39 one where Leonard just keeps going, and going, and going, until he cuts through the entirety of the OKC defense and lays one in one past Adams.

(though the last one, where he somehow finds a way to weaponize David Lee, is pretty sweet too.)

4:31-4:41: I like this, because not only does Kawhi completely physically overwhelm Garrett Temple, there’s a little extra edge to it, like Temple standing him up to begin the play angered Leonard.

I want to see more of angry Kawhi (you can at 7:07-7:17 where after Jabari Parker tries to body him out of the way, Leonard blocks his shot with two hands.)

I really want to see angry Kawhi in the playoffs.

6:09-6:19: Coast-to-coast dunks are boss. Coast-to-coast lay-ins, where you rip the ball through the arms of an over-rated NCAA hero (and sometime Raptors killer) whose nickname is “McBuckets”? That just makes Jurassic Park feel funny in the tummy,

Alright, we’ve almost ended the grand tour. Hopefully by now you’re so jacked up at the thought of the Kawhi-issance you’ve already ordered three different jerseys on-line, including this one, but we’ve got one last morsel for the buffet of basketball superstardom.

A little thing I like to call...

DAT’S WET:

1:44-1:55, 1:56-2:02, 2:48-2:56, 3:53-4:05, 4:06-4:20, 4:21-4:30, 5:59-6:08, 6:49-6:57

The full range of Kawahi making it rain. From pull-ups off the drive, to off-the-dribble daggers, to catch and shoot fire — settle back and imagine an offensive run by the most-faceted player in franchise history.

You’re welcome.

1:44-1:55 The first of several buzzer-beaters in this section, I almost put it in the Deebo category for the classic way Kawhi rolls off his opponent’s body, but ultimately this baby is all Leonard.

1:56-2:08: It’s a calm make in the face of the defense that beats the shot-clock, but what makes this bit of Dat’s Wet stand out is the announcer’s reactions (a K-Wow! AND “There’s your Kawhi-light!” from one play? I think it’s going to be pretty misty up in the journalist’s box on January 3rd.)

4:06-4:20: A great catch and shoot to give the Spurs a late game lead. It also shows that there is still room for Leonard to grow as obviously Raptors Kawhi will check his feet before shooting to realize he’s just a smidge inside the three-point line.

6:49-6:57: He’s not going to have to hit from this deep too often, but the relaxed way Leonard takes the shot, keeping his goose neck intact, even after needing to use a little extra mustard to get the ball far enough, underscores how good his form is.

So, there you go. Everything you needed to know about Kawhi Leonard, transcribed from the tape.

If you have any suggestions for Raptors-related video for Watch the Tape, hit me up in the comments below or @ConorMcCreery on Twitter.