Tag Archives: Most Valuable Player

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.