Kawhi Leonard returns in time for his own bobble-head night

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The San Antonio Spurs have made it official: Kawhi Leonard will play on Wednesday night against the Pistons after missing 14 games with a fracture of the fourth metacarpal in his right hand.

Injury bugs are one thing, but there’s been an injury rhinoceros rampaging through the Spurs’ locker room over the last two months. Tiago Splitter, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have all missed significant time since Tiago originally went down with a sprained shoulder on Jan. 4 when Ryan Hollins (DAMN YOU HOLLINS!) crashed into him after a pump-fake.

But the reinforcements have slowly but surely been arriving in San Antonio. Green, Splitter and Ginobili have all filtered through in recent weeks, and while Parker was put up on the shelf with a ‘variety of maladies,’ Leonard represents the final piece of that injury-plagued stretch of basketball that has yet to return to the lineup.

The Spurs are 8-6 without Leonard in the lineup, and my goodness have they missed him in all facets of the game. During that 14-game stretch (that obviously included various injuries to other players as well) San Antonio has dropped into the middle of the efficiency pack, ranking 13th offensively and 14th on the defensive side of the ball. And the biggest impact has been felt on the boards.

After consistently maintaining their place as a top-two defensive rebounding team (in terms of defensive rebound percentage), the Spurs crumbled to 23rd in the league during Leonard’s absence. While he’s obviously known for his defensive contributions, players were very vocal at practice on Tuesday about Leonard’s ability to rebound the ball. Work on the glass is an often underrated aspect of basketball, but man is it important.

When it comes to “glue guys” in the NBA, Leonard sets the bar. He doesn’t make the sort of offensive impact at this point we expect to see later in his career, but his presence on the court is just about as crucial to San Antonio as anyone else on the roster. The Spurs are nearly full strength for the first time in almost two months, and all the while they’ve remained near the top of the Western Conference standings.

Parker will remain in street clothes for the time being, but his return to the court likely isn’t too far off. It’s funny how up and down this season has felt in San Antonio before looking down and realizing this team is 40-16. Soon we’ll see if the Spurs can find their form in time for what’s sure to be a wild postseason.

The Spurs’ starting small forward is back just in time for the key stretch run, and more importantly, Kawhi Leonard bobble-head night.

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com/Stats.