Kawhi Leonard is Dominating Even More so than Other Top Players


Superstar and MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard is coming off a career regular season in which he averaged 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game on 48.5% shooting and 38.1% shooting from three. Leonard also finished the season with a PER of 27.5 (3rd,) 13.6 win shares (4th,) and offensive and defensive ratings of  121 and 102. Leonard was top-ten in steal percentage (.027,) usage (.311,) win share rate (.264 per 48 minutes,) box plus/minus (+7.9,) and value over replacement player (6.2.)

With all of these accomplishments during the regular season, it was hard to imagine that Leonard could improve in the playoffs against the 7th best defensive team in the NBA: the Memphis Grizzlies – even if they are without Tony Allen. Yet Leonard has managed to do so, and he has separated himself even from the Westbrooks, the Hardens, and the James’ of the league.

Leonard has already gotten 1.0 win shares in the playoffs: as many as the 2nd and 3rd place in that category (Draymond Green and James Harden) combined.

Soobum Im / USA TODAY Sports

The combination of Leonard’s volume and efficiency has been unreal. He shot 11-14 game one, and 9-14 game two. Factoring out three pointers, Leonard has shot an unreal 82.6% on two point field goals, and he has yet to miss a shot from ten feet away until the three point line, including a perfect 28-28 at the free throw line.

Here is a measure of Leonard’s production among the other members of the 30 points per game club:

Player Per Game Table
1 Russell Westbrook OKC .348 .386 .846 8.5 10.5 3.0 6.5 3.0 36.5
2 James Harden HOU .444 .511 .839 5.0 5.5 2.0 4.5 3.0 36.0
3 Kawhi Leonard SAS .714 .732 1.000 6.0 7.0 1.0 3.0 1.5 34.5
4 Kevin Durant GSW .600 .650 .857 10.0 11.0 0.0 3.0 2.0 32.0
5 John Wall WAS .477 .523 .857 4.5 4.5 0.5 3.5 2.0 32.0
6 Paul George IND .487 .615 .813 6.0 6.5 1.0 4.0 3.0 30.5
7 Kyrie Irving CLE .490 .539 .833 2.5 2.5 1.5 3.0 3.5 30.0
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/20/2017.

Notice the margin of efficiency between Leonard and the woeful Russell Westbrook (34.8%,) and the others, who are at average levels of efficiency, save for the 60% field goal percentage by Durant. Notice too the lower tendency of turnovers and fouls by Leonard, who is tasked with guarding the opponent’s best perimeter player for San Antonio.

Leonard is simply on another level right now. The Spurs have won their two games by an average margin of 21.5 points per game, which correlates strongly with the 20.0 points per 100 possessions the Spurs outscore their opponents by with Leonard on the court so far these playoffs.

AP Photo / Eric Gay

Has Leonard been the only player dominating his opponent in the playoffs? No. Leonard has been the only player, however, to dominate unquestionably. There is no doubting his volume, his efficiency, his defense, his winning – nothing. Leonard also is the only player on his team who is an MVP candidate, which puts an asterisk to what Curry, Thompson, Green, and Durant have done for Golden State.

The Spurs won 61 games in the regular season. Last year’s collapse of the 73-9 Warriors showed that there are no absolutes in the NBA Playoffs. If Leonard and the Spurs continue to play at this level, however, this may finally be the year the Spurs usurp Golden State for the spot as Western Conference representative in the NBA Finals.

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