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MVP Race: Making The Case For Kawhi Leonard

MVP Race: Making The Case For Kawhi Leonard News

The first ever NBA Awards, which will be presented on June 26 (June 27 IST), will also feature the season’s biggest award being handed out to the 2016-17 regular season Most Valuable Player (MVP). While Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard have been announced as the final nominees to the award, we look at Leonard’s case for winning his first MVP trophy.

The San Antonio Spurs bowed out of the race for the NBA championship in the Western Conference Finals after a 4-0 sweep at the hands of the eventual 2017 NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors. While it was definitely disappointing to see the Spurs go out in meek fashion, the Spurs have always been about the larger picture. Kawhi Leonard has emerged as the next genuine cornerstone for the franchise. Not only was he incredible on both sides of the court throughout the regular season, he was one of the key reasons, if not the reason, the Spurs were in with a shout against the Golden State Warriors in the 2017 Playoffs before he got injured.

Gregg Popovich spoke about putting things in perspective after the series sweep in the conference finals. This was, after all, the Spurs first season without Tim Duncan in two decades. San Antonio was facing an uncertain yet exciting future without the franchise’s foundational pillar. Leonard, who had stepped up his production significantly the previous season, was expected to do a whole lot more.

WATCH: Kawhi Leonard’s best plays of the 2016-17 season

And the Leonard we saw this season was a whole different beast. True, he was given a lot more touches on the ball as the Spurs pivoted into a more iso-heavy style of play facilitated by Leonard. But it was Leonard’s magnificence that allowed the Spurs to do the other things they did so well during the season. So here’s a quick look at the end results for a first season without The Big Fundamental in 20 years:

  • Integrated eight new players
  • 61-win season (second-best in the league behind GSW)
  • Reached Western Conference Finals

All the above point out to Leonard’s value to his team.

Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images

And the Spurs have embraced the fact that they are now Leonard’s team. Whether leading their offense or creating disruptive mayhem on defense, Leonard’s Klaw-prints are all over the Spurs’ franchise. He averaged 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game during the regular season.

And yet, Leonard’s impact on both ends of the floor cannot be measured simply by numbers. He brings a fear factor on defense and is the funnel for the Spurs’ offense. There are few who would argue that he is  among the three best two-way players in the league right now (LeBron James and Kevin Durant being the other two). When he went down with an injury in the Conference Finals, the Spurs hopes of making it a series went away with him as the Spurs were swept by the Warriors. He is just that important to the team from Texas. And if the MVP is awarded to the player, who is most valuable to a team overall, then come June 26, it should be Kawhi Leonard picking up the award on the stage at the inaugural NBA Awards.

Performance of the season:

While his performance against fellow MVP candidate James Harden (on 6 March, in San Antonio which the Spurs won 112-110) was nothing short of spectacular, we’ve gone with Leonard’s career-high 41-point overtime classic against the defending champs, Cleveland Cavaliers on 21 January 2017 in Cleveland as his season-defining performance.

WATCH:  Kawhi Leonard’s 41 points vs the Cavaliers