Why is this not being talked about? I mean, I get it. Russell Westbrook and James Harden are having phenomenal seasons in their own right, but what about Kawhi? All three players are in the Western Conference and none stack up against the top teams like the Spurs. They’re 9-2 facing the Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics and the Rockets. Additionally, they have the second best record in the NBA after only the Golden State Warriors who in the Spurs beat by an average of 25.5 points. Keep in mind, this is all coming post Tim Duncan era. So, who’s surging this push by the Spurs? You guessed it, Mr. Kawhi Leonard.
I know what you’re thinking, “It’s not just Kawhi, he’s got LaMarcus Aldridge and the whole team plays together. Harden and Westbrook do it by themselves.” While the team mentality of the Spurs is true, Kawhi actually carries more of a load than both Harden and Westbrook. Here’s my argument, outside of LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol no one on the Spurs averages double-digit scoring. On top of that, only Aldridge is averaging over 15 points per game (he averages 17.5). Kawhi is tasked with being the leading scorer night in and out and he’s produced. This season he’s averaged a career best 25.9 points per game. While this number isn’t as high as Harden’s 29.3 PPG or Westbrook’s 31.8 PPG, they have more capable scorers. Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder has 4 players who average double digit scoring and Harden’s Rockets has 5. I believe their high assist totals are a result of them having better and more capable scorers than Leonard does. Their higher point total is a result of them always needing the ball for their team to succeed. For Leonard, he needs to impact each game with and without the ball for the Spurs to win.
Kawhi Leonard is also miles better than the two defensively as well. The reigning 2-time Defensive Player of the Year is by far the best defender in the league. He’s the only player who can make LeBron James seem human. As of 2016 Kawhi actually owns a better head to head plus minus while playing James at (9.15 to 8.48). The stats aren’t overwhelming at 1.8 SPG and 0.7 BP, but the eye test shows he’s by far the best on ball defender in the NBA. He constantly forces teams to game plan around him defensively due to the amount of tough shots and turnovers he forces. Not to mention he plays defense when it matters most, just ask James Harden when he attempted a game winning layup only to have it rejected at the hands of Leonard.
So, let’s get this straight. Kawhi Leonard is by far the best player on his team, has his team playing at a higher level, has a weaker supporting roster and he’s a much better defender than the presumed winners? Hmm, that doesn’t sound right to me. Nevertheless, Westbrook and Harden are both having magnificent seasons in their own right, but give my man Kawhi some credit! He’s the future of the NBA.