The San Antonio Spurs look unbeatable these days, both literally and figuratively. After steamrolling the no-longer-leading-the-East Indiana Pacers on the road on Monday, the Spurs have won 18 straight and put a stranglehold on the race for the NBA's best record. It's no small coincidence that the streak began on Feb. 26, the night Kawhi Leonard returned from a broken finger.
San Antonio is 50-9 when Leonard plays this season, a pace that translates to 69 wins over 82 games. Even that doesn't do justice to San Antonio's average margin of victory since Leonard returned: a whopping 16.6 points. Leonard's mere presence is part of the story, as he further solidified a rotation that was already functioning at a high level. But Leonard has provided more than presence; he's been one of the league's 20 best players since the All-Star break, and has posted a team-high 2.9 WARP during the streak.
Given Leonard's age (22) and terrific recent play, it's easy to mark him as a breakout candidate next season, in the way that Paul George has been for most of 2013-14. After all, Leonard merely needs to translate what he's been doing over a full campaign.
Is it really that straight forward? Almost without exception, looking at subsets of data is less reliable than looking at the larger sample. However, trends are to be found in those subsets. So it's fair to ask: Can we identify breakout candidates based on late-season improvement?