The Keldon/Kawhi parallels: I’m convinced we have a future All-Star
Los Angeles Clippers' Kawhi Leonard, center, passes the ball as he is defended by San Antonio Spurs' Drew Eubanks, left, and Keldon Johnson during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

I don’t mean to insult Keldon Johnson. I don’t mean to upset Spurs fans, but… I’m going to compare Keldon Johnson to Kawhi Leonard. No, Keldon isn’t a headcase. No, Keldon isn’t an injury plagued star. What I’m comparing is the year-to-year growth and maturity on the basketball court.

Keldon Johnson is averaging 23.8 points per game while shooting nearly 43% from three pointers, both career-highs. Keldon has increased scoring by 4 to 6 points every year since his rookie season in 2019. Kawhi Leonard had a similar trajectory beginning his second season, ultimately averaging 25.5 points by year six.

I find this fascinating, considering Keldon was the first-round draft pick the Spurs received as part of the Kawhi trade. Little did we know, we’d find Kawhi’s future replacement so deep in the draft.

The Keldon/Kawhi comparison is more than just points… it’s about accuracy. Kawhi’s three-point shooting percentage incrementally increased from 37.6% as a rookie to 44.3% by year five. Keldon shot 33.1% from behind the arc in his first full season with the team. Now, Keldon is one of the NBA’s better volume three-point shooters at 42.7%.

Keldon’s leap is an exciting development. We now know for sure that Keldon is a player worth building a foundation around. It takes 3 stars to become relevant in the NBA. Spurs found their first in Keldon. It’s looks like Devin Vassell is emerging as our second star, now averaging 20 points per game.

The biggest difference I see between Keldon and Kawhi… is leadership. Keldon doesn’t show this publicly, but he’s becoming the alpha on this team. He is holding teammates accountable, as they grind their way through a rebuilding year.

Golden State’s Draymond Green called Keldon Johnson an incredible teammate during their Olympics gold medal run. Many criticized Team USA for having Keldon on the team. Keldon became the guy that glued the team together when things got tough leading up to the Tokyo games. Now, 15 months later, Keldon is gluing this team together as its leader… as it’s leading scorer… and as its alpha.

What do you think of Keldon Johnson’s leap this season? Let Michael know on Twitter @MikeESPNSA. You can listen to him on “Halftime with Mike Jimenez,” weekdays from Noon to 2 p.m.