Ok, so we all know who is winning this year’s NBA MVP Award. It’s the man who is having statistically the greatest season of all-time. The man who plays for a team, who after Wednesday’s overtime win against the Jazz, sit just 5 wins away from history. But what if I told you that all of the attention and praise that is being heaped on the Steph Curry and his Golden State Warriors is casting a shadow on Kawhi Leonard and one of the greatest seasons in basketball history.
Surprised? Can’t blame you. There has been very little talk about the San Antonio Spurs despite their 63-12 record, which last season would have been the best record in basketball. Still the talking heads on ESPN and other sports outlets have not even recognized the greatness that is Kawhi Leonard’s 2015-16 season.
What do I mean? What makes Kawhi’s season so great? It’s a mix of two very big things. Defense and Offense. The reason I state defense first is quite simple. It’s because no player in the NBA is even close to the defensive player that Kawhi has been this season. Right now the averages from the players Kawhi Leonard has guarded this year is as reads:
11.9 Points, 4.1 Rebounds, 2.1 Assists, 2.0 Turnovers, and 2.1 TOTAL Free Throw Attempts a game.
That’s unbelievable. It’s undoubtedly the best defense being played in the NBA this season, and it is arguably the best that has ever been played. Now add in Leonard’s offense and things get scary. Kawhi is averaging:
21.0 Points, 6.8 Rebounds, 2.5 Assists, 1.8 Steals. Not to mention, the small forward is hitting over 46% of his 3-point shots, a better percentage than the perceived best 3-point shooting player ever, Steph Curry.
What does all of this mean for Kawhi Leonard and his so-called all-time great season? It means that Leonard is statistically the most well-rounded player in the NBA since a man named Larry Bird.
But what about Jordan? What about Lebron? Nope. See Leonard ranks in the 97th percentile in +/-, the 95th percentile in points per 36 minutes, the 73rd percentile in rebounding, and the 60th percentile in assists, averaging out at 81.25 between the 4 major stat lines. Leonard’s all-around excellence this season has placed him far ahead of Michael Jordan, Lebron James, and Kobe Bryant, each of whom never averaged better than 74.25 between the 4 stat lines. The last player who outdid Kawhi Leonard statistically, that would be Bird over 30 years ago in the 84-85 season, when he averaged in the 87.75th percentile in assists, rebounds, points, and +/-.
And still there are things Leonard is doing this season that even the great Larry Bird could never do. As a matter of fact, Leonard is doing something this season that no player has ever done. The Spurs’ MVP is scoring at a modestly high 21 pts/game, which is good for 15th in the league this year. But the part of his game that gets lost to most fans is Kawhi’s ability to score without turning the ball over. In fact, despite the Spurs running their offense through the steady hands of Leonard, his 1.5 turnovers per game are the lowest among 20-point scorers in league history.
And it’s not just that Kawhi is efficient in not turning the ball over, it’s that he is efficient in nearly every way offensively. See, people got excited three seasons ago when Kevin Durant became the sixth player in NBA history to record a 50/40/90 (field goal percentage/three-point percentage/free throw percentage) season while qualifying for all three leaderboards, and rightfully so as that is a great accomplishment. But nobody seems to be that blown away that Leonard is close to starting his own 50/50/90 club, of which he would be the 1st player ever to do so. Even at his current mark of 51/46/88, no player in NBA history has ever accomplished that slash line that Leonard is putting up this season.
And once again, these are just the stats Leonard is putting up on the offensive side of the ball. Leonard’s defense, which has been the 24-year old’s calling card is flat out phenomenal.
According to the sabermetric “defensive rating”, no perimeter player in NBA history, be it a point guard, shooting guard, or small forward, has ever ranked higher than Leonard this year. And you would have to go back over a decade to find a big man that could match his dominance in the post (Ben Wallace 04-05).
Still we know who will win the hardware this season. We know who is making the crazy 3-point shots, and probably leading their team to the single season win record. But maybe we should all take a moment and realize that there is more going on in the NBA than just Steph Curry and the Warriors, like arguably the greatest all-around season any basketball fan has ever seen.