Tag Archives: Kawhi Leonard

Here’s How You Solve The MVP Race, Give Out More Awards

The Maurice Podoloff Trophy shouldn’t be the only trophy handed out for a player having a great season. Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

The 2016-17 race for NBA Most Valuable Player is as close as any we’ve seen in recent memory.  Four players have a legitimate claim that they deserve the award. Russell Westbrook who is doing something that hasn’t been done since 1961-62. James Harden who is having a redemption season leading the Houston Rockets to 50+ wins and the third seed of the Western Conference playoffs after they only won 41 games last season, finishing in the 8th seed and he didn’t make any of the three All-NBA teams. Kawhi Leonard who has ascended into the conversation as a top five player in the game in the absence of the retired Tim Duncan. And LeBron James, who like the most famous 23 he’s chasing, is still the best player in the game and showing no signs of slowing down.

It’s going to be a tough choice for those who have a vote. Should I vote for the guy who is exceeding expectations along with his team? Or should I vote for the guy who is having the best season statistically? What about the guy who is having a breakout season while replacing a first ballot Hall of Famer and the team isn’t missing a beat? What about the guy who is the most valuable to the entire League?

It shouldn’t be this difficult because they should have more options. The NBA should add more individual awards to specify what they’re voting for.

Here’s my idea.

Keep the Maurice Podoloff Trophy and award it as the Most Valuable Player in the way it was intended, to go to the player who was the most valuable to their team’s level of success.

For example, if you took Russell Westbrook off his Oklahoma City Thunder team this season it’s very likely that they would be on the fast track to earn the most Ping-Pong balls to gain the number one overall pick in the 2017 Draft. I guess I just told you who I hope wins.

But I also think there should be a Player of the Year award given to the player who is the best regardless of their team’s success. I’d call this the Michael Jeffrey Jordan Trophy. I even have an idea of what it should look like. Despite what many would believe it shouldn’t be the Jumpman logo. Save that for the kicks. Rather it should be the pose from “last shot” he made as a Chicago Bull to propel them to their sixth NBA title.

The reason why this award should be named after MJ is because there were several times, 92-93 and 96-97 in particular, where he was clearly still the best player in the game, but Charles Barkley and Karl Malone deserved to win the MVP award because they lifted their teams beyond expectations. Handing out a “Player of the Year” trophy is my solution to get past this so called “LeBron Fatigue” where no one wants to vote him for MVP because he has a real case to win it every season. So since he’s suffering the same fate that kept Jordan from earning more than five MVPs, name the award after the G.O.A.T. and give it to the best player in the league.

I’ll add another award. Since the NBA already has a Defensive Player of the Year award, how about create and Offensive Player of the Year award as well like the NFL. I’d bet James Harden would win this award in a landslide. And I’d vote for Kawhi Leonard to win his third consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award.

While I’m at it, I also think there should be an MVP given out at the end of both Conference Finals. This is my solution for those who for some reason want to wait until the end of the Finals to vote for MVP. I think that idea is absurd by the way. MVP is for the regular season. But the Finals MVP named in honor of Bill Russell shouldn’t be the de facto playoff MVP either. My solution, hand out the Larry Bird and Magic Johnson MVP trophy at the end of each conference final similar to the MOP in each region of the NCAA Tournament. This way the Finals MVP can be determined by just the seven game series that decides the title.

Several sports leagues already hand out several individual awards. So what I’m calling for isn’t that unprecedented.

Major league baseball does it.  In addition to the League MVP, they give out a League Championship MVP to the best player in each series before the World Series, and then they give out a World Series MVP.

For the season they give out the Silver Slugger trophy for best offensive player at each position in each league. The Cy Young Award for the Pitchers, Rolaids Relief Man award for the best relief pitchers in each league as well as the Reliever of the Year award. The Hank Aaron award goes to the top hitter in each league and there are many more.

The National Hockey League also hands out several individual awards to celebrate all the players who had special seasons. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

I know some will call this the equivalent of Little League giving everyone a participation trophy, but they’re wrong. This is a fair way to make sure all greatness is celebrated.

In some seasons the same guy will rightfully sweep all the awards I’ve created. But it would be very rare. Between the historic once in a lifetime season Westbrook is having, the impressive turnaround Harden and the Rockets have made, the ascension of Kawhi and the consistent greatness of LeBron, I hate to see one, two or three of these guys not acknowledged for what they’re doing.

Kawhi Leonard, You Remind Me of….

Kawhi has become the best two-way player in the NBA. Photo Credit: Chris Covatta/NBAE/Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs are playing their first season in almost two decades without the greatest player in franchise history, Tim Duncan. Yet, they’re still a strong title contender pushing the Golden State Warriors for the top spot in the Western Conference, and that’s all thanks to already having the next leader of their dynasty playing at a high level.

Kawhi Leonard, the 2014 NBA Finals MVP, has ascended to superstardom in 2016-17.

Always known as a tremendous defender as the reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year, with a vastly improved offensive game, Leonard has many saying he is the best two way player in the game. And that’s saying something when LeBron James appears to still be in his prime.

The two-time All-Star is averaging a career high in points (26.0), free throws made (6.7) and attempted (7.6), for a career high 88.4% shooting. He’s also had more 25+ point games this season (35) than he had his entire career before the season began. Two times he’s had scoring steaks where he scored 30+ points in four consecutive games, and from January 10th through the 21st he had a steak of 5 consecutive games where he scored 30+ points which included setting a career high of 41 points in a win at Cleveland.

Speaking of the defending World Champion Cavs. Kawhi has gotten the better of his matchup versus LBJ scoring 25 points against them in their second victory against them this season, a 103-74 blowout where Leonard sat out the last 10 minutes of the 4th quarter.

Watching his development has been a pleasure, especially since his evolution has reminded me of several players I cheered for growing up.

In this latest edition of my “You Remind Me” series…  I compare “The Claw” to a six-time NBA Champ, a key contributor to “Showtime” and a 2017 Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame finalist.

Michael Cooper was the “Showtime” Lakers premier perimeter defender helping them win 5 Championships. The 8-time All-NBA Defensive selection (1st-Team 5-times) is as decorated as any guard on the defensive end in league history. He could play against 1’s, 2’s, 3’s and some 4’s before that was even the norm. The 1987 Defensive Player of the Year was once called “the best defender he ever faced” by Larry Bird. His defensive prowess is something he and Kawhi have in common. Leonard is a much more advanced offensive player.

Scottie Pippen. “Pip” doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being one of the best all-around players in NBA history. Not only did he defend the Chicago Bulls’ opponents top offensive perimeter player, he was also Chicago’s second leading scorer during much of his career along side Michael Jordan. But the part of Pip’s career that is most similar to Kawhi’s is the season and a half he played without MJ. In 1993-94, Pippen finished second in the league MVP voting behind Hakeem Olajuwon. That season he averaged 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.9 steals per game. Those averages led all Chicago Bulls players.

Tracy McGrady. Kawhi hasn’t had the explosive 60+ point night that T-Mac had yet, but this season he has shown he has the ability. If Coach Pop let him. McGrady averaged 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game on 44 percent shooting from the field in his 16-year career. The two-time NBA Scoring Champion could slash through the lane and posterize the giants that patrolled the paint, but also pull up and sink the elbow jumper and post up in the short corner. Leonard has diversified his offensive game with the help of Kobe Bryant and it’s showing. The way he gets his points in a variety of ways is what reminds me of T-Mac, especially his Orlando days. More summers spent working with Kobe and the historical explosive scoring prowess might rub off on him as well.

When the Spurs signed LaMarcus Aldridge as a free agent in 2015 the expectation was that he’d be the one San Antonio built their championship hopes around, but it’s Leonard who has taken the baton from the three Hall of Famers (Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli) that led them to their previous five titles.

Kawhi is no longer just a defensive specialist or cog in the San Antonio wheel. The Spurs will need his overall game to continue to flourish if they have any hopes of defeating that juggernaut in the Bay Area and raising more banners in the AT&T Center.

James Harden, You Remind Me of….

James Harden is leading the Rockets to heights not seen since the mid-1990’s. Photo Credit: Troy Taormina/USA Today

The race for the 2016-2017 NBA MVP race is a dead heat between four men. LeBron James who is clearly the best player in the League, Russell Westbrook who is having the most historic season seen in over five decades, Kawhi Leonard who has ascended to a superstar, and James Harden who is having a redemption season.

Harden is the leader in the NBA in assists per game (11.3) and second in scoring per game (29.5) with a real chance to become only the second player in Association history to finish the season number one in both categories (Nate Archibald, 1972-73). He can also be the first player in Association history to score 2,000 or more points, while assisting on 2,000 plus points in a season. He also averages 8.0 rebounds per game, so he’s doing it on both ends which has been the knock on him in his career.

Most importantly, the Rockets currently hold the 3rd seed in the Western Conference with 51 wins, after winning only 41 games last season and finishing with the 8th seed.

The Rockets All-Star is the leader to grab the Maurice Podoloff trophy this season after a dismal 2015-2016 season where he didn’t make one of the three All-NBA teams shouldn’t be much of a stunner. “The Beard” actually was the inaugural players selection for Most Valuable Player in 2014-15 the season when the writers selected Steph Curry to his first of back-to-back MVP wins.

Also, playing in offensive innovator Mike D’Antoni’s system has turned Harden and the Rockets into legitimate title contenders. The smooth lefty’s talent is on full display now that he’s been converted from shooting guard to point guard in the hypercharged offensive system. The same system that turned future Hall of Famer Steve Nash into a two-time NBA MVP.

Harden’s reemergance as one of the top tier players in the game has me watching him more closely. The more I do, the pieces of his game reminds me of a couple of players we’ve seen before.

A Hall of Famer, a future Hall of Famer and a former NBA Finals MVP.

This is latest edition of my “You Remind Me of”… which includes LeBron James, Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Russell Westbrook.

Chris Mullin is another smooth crafty lefty without explosive athleticism, but great playmaking ability for himself and others. Each play at their own pace and never let the defender get them out of their style. Mullin is mostly known for his precision shooting from mid-range to the 3-point line, but “Mully” could definitely fill up the stat sheet like the Beard does today.

In his five All-Star seasons from 1988-89 through 1992-93, Mullin averaged 25.8 points per game on 52% shooting from the field, while grabbing 5.6 rebounds and dishing 4.1 assists per game. For the young fans who don’t know, Mullin is a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Manu Ginobli. This comparison isn’t new to hear for hoop fans. Actually, this is one of the legends Harden has be known to say he modeled his game after as youth growing up in southern California. They both have that devastating, for defenders, euro-step. Although, Ginobli probably does his with more force and speed.

Another player that Harden reminds me of is 2004 NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups. He and Harden are both bigger than the average point guard (6’3″ 210 & 6’5″ 215 respectively) with the ability to post up and get easy buckets on the block, but also carry the responsibility to spread the ball around and decipher which teammate’s hot hand to ride.

Billups was the maestro for those Detroit Pistons teams that won an NBA title, was 48 minutes from a repeat, and played in six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals. “Mr. Big Shot” was Detroits best offensive player while making sure fellow All-Stars Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace’s offensive talents were maximized.

The success of Harden’s team may give him the votes needed to win the MVP over his good friend Westbrook. But, I wouldn’t be mad if this one time the voters coped-out and split the award between them.

Small Forward is the New Center-piece Position 

Kevin Durant & LeBron James have revolutionized the game from the small forward position. Photo Credit: NBA/Getty Images

In the NFL the saying goes, “If you don’t have an elite QB, you won’t be an elite team.” Which basically means you can forget about winning the Super Bowl. In the NBA, many have compared the point guard position to the single caller on the gridiron and used that as an indicator of a team’s chance at success.

Right now the NBA is the golden age of point guards. Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, James Harden, Dame Lillard, Tony Parker and John Wall to name a few.

While many may say if you don’t have an elite PG you don’t have a chance at winning a title, I can argue that if you don’t have an elite small forward, you can give up any chance of holding Larry O’Brien.

To me, top elite small forwards have become as scarce as elite centers in the days of Kareem, Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, up to Shaq. In the 1980s and 90s, general managers built their teams around the big man.

In this age of position-less basketball, we are actually moving into the era of the multi-skilled small forward and GMs will do whatever it takes to acquire one. The mantra of “its a guard league”, is soon to end.

First-time NBA All-Star The Greek Freak’s potential is as wide as his wingspan. Photo Credit: NBA/Getty Images

Look at these names; LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kwahi Leonard, Paul George and Jimmy Butler. Then there are those coming up in Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Andrew Wiggins, and Giannis Antetokoumnpo. These hybrids have point guard playmaking skills, as well as the elite scoring ability on the perimeter and in the post are hard to come by.

The last five NBA Finals MVP’s have been LeBron James (2012, 2013, 2016), Kawhi Leonard (2014) and Andre Iguodala (2015). All three are multiple time all-stars, who are versatile on both the offense and defense ends of the court.

If that doesn’t wet your beak, check out these numbers from the 2016-17 John Hollinger’s NBA Player Stats. Yes it’s analytics that so many old school players and fans hate.

At the time of this post (2/17/17), two of the top five players and 5 of the 12 in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) are small forwards, the most of any position.

  • #2 Kawhi Leonard 28.23
  • #5 Kevin Durant 27.62
  • #8 Giannis Antetokoumnpo 26.71

Just barely outside the top ten at #11 and #12, LeBron James at 26.34 and Jimmy Butler 25.51, respectively.

Four of the previous mentioned are also in the top ten in Estimated Wins Added (EWA) which measures the estimated number of wins a player adds to its teams season total above what a “replacement player” would produce.

  • #3 Kevin Durant, 16.3
  • #4 Giannis Antetokoumnpo, 15.4
  • #4 LeBron James, 15.4
  • #7 Kawhi Leonard, 15.1

Just outside the top 10 in the number 11 spot is Jimmy Butler at 13.6

The Chicago Bulls are down right now, but their climb back will be headed by Jimmy Butler. Photo Credit: NBA/Getty Images

Take a look at ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus. Once again five of the top ten are small forwards, if you count Draymond Green, who at 6’7″ is more of a small forward with his swiss-arm knife playmaking ability even though he’s listed as Golden State’s power forward. That playmaking was on full display on February 10th when Green became the first player in NBA history to record a triple-double without double-digit points (12 rebounds, 10 assists, 10 steals, 4 points).

  • #2 Draymond Green, 6.90
  • #3 Jimmy Butler, 6.41
  • #5 Kevin Durant, 6.21
  • #7 LeBron James, 6.00
  • #9 Kawhi Leonard, 5.89

Also on ESPN’s real-plus minus, in the wins categories these small forwards hold 6 of the top 12 spots.

  • #2 Kevin Durant, 11.52
  • #5 Draymond Green, 11.38
  • #7 LeBron James, 10.94
  • #8 Jimmy Butler, 10.83
  • #10 Kawhi Leonard, 9.29
  • #12 Giannis Antetokounmpo, 9.14

These five guys make up half 2017 All-Star starters. It’s no wonder their teams have three of the best overall records in the NBA.

In the coming seasons, you’ll start to see the teams who are talented in every area but the 3-spot not being able to stay with the teams who are blessed to have a future Hall of Famer, perennial All-Star or future superstar in tow.

Take the Los Angeles Clippers for example. While the Clippers have their own all-star big three of Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, their glaring hole at the 3-spot has been their downfall in the past three or four seasons. They’ve tried Matt Barnes, Caron Butler, Wesley Johnson, Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson and Jeff Green. With the exception of Barnes and Butler, all those acquisitions flamed out.

It’s why the Golden State Warriors passed them up when they acquired Iguodala and the emergence of Green, who as I mentioned early is effectively their other playmaking small forward, especially in crunch time.

As the Association continues to trend toward making post play obsolete, big men will have to improve their perimeter skills to keep up and stay on the court. That means more players coming into the draft with the body types of Antetokoumnpo, Durant, James and throw Kristaps Porzingis into that mix as well, that will also attempt to emulate their those guys style of play.

Like the old days when teams built around rare dominant 7-foot big men who patrolled the paint, teams will now scourer for the next great versatile, athletic, Swiss Army knife wingman to build their championship dreams. The present and future is in the three spot, no matter how littered the Association is with all-star PG’s.