Story by: Christopher Davis
Kawhi Leonard is a more efficient three-point shooter than Kevin Durant, better free throw shooter than Klay Thompson, as versatile as Scottie Pippen, as terrifying a perimeter defender as Michael Jordan and just as clutch as Carmelo Anthony—these are the facts.
Leonard is undoubtedly the second-best player in the NBA right now.
At 50-13, Leonard has led his team to the second-best record in the NBA as the only All-Star on his team. And with 19 games left, the Spurs are just 1.5 games behind the Warriors for the top record in the league.
And when Leonard and the Spurs go up against your favorite player’s team, your team usually takes an L. Leonard has a 10-1 record versus the likes of John Wall, Isaiah Thomas, LeBron James, Steph Curry, James Harden and Russell Westbrook this season.Embed from Getty Images
So, let’s talk more about the man they call “The Klaw”. Leonard averages 1.8 steals for his career, stealing the ball at least 100 times in four of his six NBA seasons. He’s the 2-time defending defensive player of the year and a 3-time All-defensive team member. He guards everyone from quick shifty guards like Kemba Walker to big physical forwards like LeBron James—it doesn’t matter who he matches up against.
He gets so close to you that he can probably tell you what you had for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And he follows you all the way to the parking lot on defense. He’s one of the peskiest wing defenders the NBA has ever seen and he doesn’t say a word.
There was a moment in the 2014 NBA Finals that sums up the type of headache Leonard is as a defender. LeBron James was at the free throw line and the sideline operator sounded the horn and the ref signaled for a player to check in, it was none other than Kawhi Leonard.
Immediately, James gave the look you give your mom when she tells you it’s time to come inside for dinner.Embed from Getty Images
But it’s not just his defense that’s a nuisance now. The thing with Leonard is his offense is actually catching up to his defense. And that’s what makes him the next closest thing to the Boogeyman when it comes to who players fear most on the court each night.
In Leonard’s sixth season, he’s averaging a career high in points (26.3), assists (3.4), free throw percentage (.896) and free throw attempts (7.6).
Since his 3rd season in the league, Leonard has increased his points per game average by at least four in each season, managing to still shoot 50 percent from the field and 39 percent from the deep end for his career. And last season he ranked 6th in the NBA in player efficiency rating, but this year he’s second only to Russell Westbrook.
He can do it all. He can drive left or right, he can post up on the low block, fade away off either shoulder, shoot the deep ball, and mid-range.
Leonard even does this thing now where he’ll drive to rim and as he gets fouled he’ll palm the ball, with his 9.8 inch behemoth sized hands, midair and throw it in like he’s inspector gadget, playing shot put.
It’s just part of the marvel and terror that Leonard has become as an all-around basketball machine.
This season Russell Westbrook and James Harden have received tremendous praise for their statistical display this season—and deservingly so. But to be the best player in the league, you must make winning plays, not just fill up the stat sheet.
Last week versus the Rockets, Leonard was engaged in a duel with James Harden where both players went for 39 points. But in the fourth, Greg Popovich put him on Harden and The Klaw held him to four points while scoring 17 on the other end.
Late in the game, Leonard drilled a clutch triple off an inbound. And then on defense, Leonard got caught on a screen and roll from the top of the key, but he somehow chased Harden down from the left side, blocked the shot, and corralled the ball to cement a win—that’s true MVP basketball.
And to think many scouts questioned Leonard’s ball handling, his ability to create a shot off the dribble, and even his overall defensive principles and judgement.
I guess Leonard is an example of the girl you slept on in high school, but now she’s the baddest girl at the party.
Just don’t sleep again because he could possibly become the best player in the league.
Featured image for this post courtesy of movietvtechgeeks.com