The Playoffs are almost here and there’s only two teams with more than 50 wins. Everyone knows of the Golden State Warriors and their excess of talent dazzling play. However once again the San Antonio Spurs have gone much un-noticed. Unlike the Warriors and their 4 All-Stars the Spurs only have one Star in Kawhi Leonard.
In their first season without Tim Duncan in two decades and an otherwise aging roster the Spurs have put together a magnificent season. As it currently stands ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight has the Spurs on pace for 64 wins. Leonard has led them through a tough year. As teams adjust to him, he has to adapt and pick up the slack of others.
Look as Leonard just takes the ball straight from Ben Mclemore‘s hands.
Coming into the season there was a widely held belief by fans that this year would be a wash. After their 73-9, Warriors signed former MVP Kevin Durant and wanted to skip ahead to the finals. Thankfully that didn’t happen and we got to see Russell Westbrook average a triple double every night and James Harden reach new heights with his overall offensive showcases. Leonard is silently doing everything for the Spurs on both ends of the court. Of course there is LeBron James and Kevin Durant being all time greats as soon as they step on the floor. Consequently who should win the MVP?
Does Harden’s offense mean more than Kawhi’s two-way skill set?
Finishing second in MVP voting two years ago James Harden has entered back into the conversation. After a down year, the Rockets rebuilt themselves around Harden this offseason. Taking on a PG role has allowed Harden to excel in every aspect of the offensive game. Consequently, he often slacks off when on defense. Harden has been verbal about his reluctance to put up effort. Leonard’s team was not built around him. He has to function as part of the Spurs team. Which means he’s playing with players that may hinder his own ability.
His talent cannot be denied, at only 25 he’s improved one aspect of his game every year since he got in the league. While Leonard does not have the same offensive responsibilities, he has become the best two-way player in the NBA. After winning back to back DPOY awards, teams have begun to purposely play away from Leonard to limit his impact on the defensive end.
Harden has put up spectacular numbers but Kawhi is by far the best player on the team. His defense might actually have more value than Harden’s offense on a team with the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, and Tony Parker. No matter where Kawhi is on the floor, he’s always in the right position.
Much has been made of how dreadful Westbrook’s teammates are and how much this team needs him. Although, are they really that bad? Could a respectable team be made from the pieces on roster? The case could be made that Westbrook’s style of play is counterproductive when it comes to helping his teammates excel. The Thunders record when Westbrook takes 30 or more shots is 4-8 and when he records 12 or more assist the Thunder are 18-6. With the amount of attention Westbrook draws he could be averaging 15 assists a game. Unfortunately for his teammates, Westbrook isn’t looking for them unless he’s driving.
The Thunder are 26 in the NBA in assists and 24 in turnovers. His insistence to do everything for the team may cause more damage than good. Wilt Chamberlain once said that Bill Russell was the best Center to ever play because he would do less and sometimes less is more. As good as Westbrook is, he doesn’t make his teammates better. Kyle Singler, Anthony Morrow, and now Doug McDermott have all been solid shooters on other teams. Their percentages plummeted when they g0t to Oklahoma.
Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
When playing the GM game, if Westbrook were switched with another elite level PG, whose team does better? If Westbrook were a legitimate distributor, the Thunder would be a 50 win team. Leonard has put up his numbers around a similar assembly of misfits and NBA outcasts. Kawhi’s team is more accomplished career wise. Tony Parker is 34 and has nothing in his legs anymore. David Lee has found rejuvenation in San Antonio after bouncing around the NBA last season but he still is a negative against better teams. Pau Gasol is putting up another solid year but he’s 36 and coming off the bench. Kawhi has done more with about the same and could potentially be on the best team in the NBA.
You can’t win MVP if you play with another top 15 player.
Let’s get one thing straight, LeBron James is the best player in basketball. He has been for a decade. That being said LeBron is not the most “valuable” to his team. The Cavs have other great players in Kyrie Erving and Kevin Love. The same can be said for Durant as he puts up incredible numbers for Golden State. With Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green next to him does he bring more value to his team than Westbrook or Leonard? No, the Warriors would still be a great team without Durant in the line up.
Now, LeBron is doing incredible things and at 32 years old it’s hard to believe what we’re seeing. He hasn’t slowed down since he entered the league 14 years ago but LeBron has won the MVP before. Wether it’s right or not this season will be compared to those previous MVP seasons. He’s arguably having his best season since he was 23 but what his value to his team just isn’t as high as Harden, Westbrook, or Leonard.
Oh! One more thing, The Spurs are 7-2 against the Warriors, Cavs, Thunder, and Rockets.
Take a moment and just watch this Video of Kawhi’s defense tormenting players. Players like LeBron James, Westbrook, and Steph Curry just to name a few.