The Story: Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard has a partial tear in his left shoulder, Gregg Popovich told reporters Monday. The injury occurred Friday, in the Spurs’ 103-89 win against the Suns.
The Importance: Though San Antonio managed a 23-10 record without Leonard, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year is the difference between the Spurs being good and being great.
Leonard missed the first 27 games of the 2017-18 season before rejoining the starting lineup on a minutes restriction, and has rested four nonconsecutive games since. The lengthy absence was a result of a quad injury, the likes of which Popovich had “never” seen before.
A separate and new injury is discouraging for Leonard, who was predicted to be in the MVP running after finishing third in the voting last season. San Antonio has held on without him; the Spurs are third in the Western Conference, at 27-14. But playoff success against the two teams ahead of them, the Rockets and the Warriors, is unlikely without Leonard. Given how well the Rockets have played at times, it would be tough for the Spurs to beat them with Kawhi.
The Takeaway: The injuries are slowly starting to mount for Leonard, 26, though he isn’t thought of as being in the same category as Anthony Davis. Leonard has missed 127 of 574 possible games in his seven seasons in the NBA—nearly one-fourth of his career—while Davis has missed 80 games out of a possible 448 (18 percent) in six seasons.