Kawhi vs. DeMar: Who’s had better start to NBA season?

Tim and Sid discuss San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich's leadership comments about Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard.

The July blockbuster that sent Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan sent the NBA world — including DeRozan himself — into a state of shock.

The deal instantly made the Raptors championship contenders and gave the San Antonio Spurs another all-star to deploy alongside LaMarcus Aldridge.

Now more than four months removed from the trade at the quarter mark of the 2018-19 NBA season, let’s compare how Leonard and DeRozan are faring with their new clubs:

Kawhi Leonard DeMar DeRozan
Games played 15 20
Minutes per game 33.3 36.6
Points per game 24.7 24.7
Assists per game 3.0 6.3
Rebounds per game 8.5 6.0
Field-goal percentage 47.5 48.6
Three-point percentage 33.9 18.8
Free-throw percentage 84.3 85.7
Steals per game 1.7 1.0
Blocks per game 0.5 0.3
Turnovers per game 2.1 2.5
Win shares 2.1 2.1

*All stats courtesy Basketball Reference

With both players excelling in their new surroundings, it’s safe to say the trade has been a win for both sides to this point.

Starting with overall team success, Leonard has helped propel the Raptors to the best record in the NBA at 17-4. Expectations were higher than ever for Canada’s only franchise heading into the season, and Nick Nurse’s club has lived up to the hype due in large part to Leonard’s contributions.

In an effort to keep the former Finals MVP fresh, Toronto has opted to rest Leonard when facing back-to-back situations. As a result, he has only suited up for 15 of the team’s 21 games.

When he has been on the court, he’s come as advertised. He’s scoring at a strong rate, rebounding better than ever, making plays for teammates and striking fear into opponents defensively. His shooting percentages are down from his career norms, but could easily rise as he continues to gain familiarity and continuity in his new environment and put last season’s infamous quad injury further and further behind him.

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On the other side of the coin, DeRozan is in a new uniform, but has been his same old reliable self through 20 games with the Spurs. He leads his team in scoring at a healthy 24.7 points per game while amassing those points on nearly 49 per cent shooting from the floor — easily a career-high.

DeRozan is playing his most minutes since the 2013-14 season and is taking advantage of the increased run. With the Spurs missing starting point guard Dejounte Murray, DeRozan is being relied upon as a facilitator more than ever. The 29-year-old is thriving with the added responsibility, dishing out a career-best 6.3 assists per game.

While he is undoubtedly enjoying individual success, DeRozan’s Spurs currently sit at 10-10, which is good for ninth place in a crowded Western Conference. A 21-year playoff streak is on the line, so San Antonio is going to need DeRozan to maintain his level of play all season to keep the impressive run alive.

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