Over the past two months of the NBA playoffs Kawhi Leonard has averaged 31 factors, 9 rebounds and three assists, led the Toronto Raptors to the brink of the primary title in franchise historical past, all however closed the curtain on the Warriors dynasty, turn out to be Exhibit A within the case for shortening the NBA season, was the topic of one in every of sport’s funnier hoaxes, elbowed his means into the “Finest Participant within the NBA” dialog, and maybe positioned himself as essentially the most fascinating free agent this summer time. What did you do that spring?
Let’s take a fast run by means of the above bullet factors:
- Right here’s an inventory of gamers who’ve averaged 31-9-Three throughout a playoff run (minimal 16 video games): Lebron (Four instances — 4!), Shaq (twice), Kareem, Olajuwon, and Leonard. That’s some mighty effective firm.
- The Raptors are up 3-1 within the Finals and are residence for Video games 5 and seven. Kevin Durant will in all probability play Recreation 5, however solely as a result of it’s DefCon1 for the Dubs. Klay Thompson’s nonetheless not 100 p.c, DeMarcus Cousins has been ineffective, and Draymond Inexperienced hasn’t been in a position to keep the manufacturing that helped them go 12-Four by means of the primary three rounds. It’s actually powerful to think about a state of affairs the place the Warriors flip the tide. Solely as soon as in NBA historical past has a workforce overcome a 3-1 deficit within the Finals, and that was the Cavs in 2016 towards the Warriors. So Golden State is aware of it may be accomplished, however nonetheless…
- There have been grumblings for a couple of years now as groups have been resting their gamers at instances all through the common season. Followers and the league workplace hate it as a result of it means lacking out on watching superstars do their factor. Groups find it irresistible as a result of it retains their guys recent and wholesome for a deep run within the playoffs. The opposite day Leonard advised Rachel Nichols that the “load management” program he and the Raptors put in place this season — he missed 22 video games — was key to his efficiency through the playoffs. This all dovetails properly with one other factor individuals have recommended for a couple of years: shortening the season. Think about if as an alternative of Kawhi enjoying 60 of 82, followers received to see him play 55 of 60 and nonetheless be recent come April. It’s going to by no means occur, as a result of it might imply 25 p.c much less income for all events concerned, however it’s good to consider.
- Kawhi began this NBA season by turning into its first meme, due to his deadpan declare that he was a “fun guy” and his ridiculous laugh. Extra just lately, The Athletic talked to a few of his outdated San Diego State teammates and realized about his penchant for weird trash speak, the spotlight of which was “Board man will get paid.” This led to the circulation of a narrative that claimed throughout a workforce dinner with the Spurs, quite than ordering meals, he whipped out a bag of two apples, declared “Apple time, apple time,” and proceeded to eat all of them — with a fork and knife. Sadly it proved to be a joke, however a hilariously plausible one. On, and let’s not overlook the stone chilly dis he gave a teammate in want of a fist bump:
- Because the common season wound down it appeared fairly clear that Giannis Antetokounmpo had locked up the MVP race and established himself as the most effective participant within the NBA. Then he bumped into the buzzsaw that’s Kawhi Leonard as he and the Raptors beat the Bucks 4-2 within the Japanese Convention Finals. Kawhi posted 30-10-4, whereas Giannis managed 23-14-6 on .448 taking pictures, effectively off his common season mark of .578. Who would you set forward of Kawhi? The Ringer had him at #eight on the All-Star break, saying “The one factor stopping him from vaulting again into the [MVP] dialog” was the missed video games. Trying on the guys listed forward of him, you’d be arduous pressed to search out somebody who’s clearly higher.
- Which leads us to Kawhi’s pending free company. He holds a participant possibility for subsequent season at $21.Three million, one which he will definitely decline. The one different free agent on this upcoming class wherever close to Kawhi’s stage is Kevin Durant, who’s a legit all-time nice, like, prime 20, simple. Perhaps greater. However he’s three years older than Kawhi, has performed almost 20,000 extra minutes (together with the postseason) and is nowhere close to the defender that Kawhi is. That is to take nothing away from Durant, who, once more, is an all-timer and clearly has a greater total resume than Kawhi, however at this second in time, who would you suppose goes to be higher over the subsequent 5 years?
Leonard is simply days (perhaps hours) away from placing the ending touches on one of many best playoff runs within the sport’s historical past and it has been a pleasure to behold, and he’s accomplished all of it with a bum leg, essentially the most neglected harm of the postseason. Even when he in some way falls in need of closing out the Warriors, he’ll nonetheless be value each penny he will get this summer time.
Watch Recreation 5 of the NBA Finals at 9pm ET Monday on ESPN3. You possibly can watch Recreation 6 at 9pm ET on Thursday and Recreation 7 on 8pm Sunday, if crucial.