Recently, Marc Stein reported that the Spurs are still trying to hang onto Kawhi. An Insider told Stein that Spurs management wants to keep The Claw in San Antonio and are going to try and work it out similar to the way they did with LaMarcus Aldridge. Is this true? Probably. But as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Of course, RC Buford wants Kawhi! But do I think Leonard’s stay in San Antonio has a shot clock on it? Hell yeah. So, just how good is Kawhi and how much should teams be willing to part with to land him?
The other day, I tweeted out that the Celtics would be insane not to trade some package of Tatum or Brown for Leonard. Boy, you would not believe the responses I got. Celtics Twitter LOVES those two wings. Celtics Twitter is also notoriously ruthless. Guys…this is coming from someone who belongs to Celtics Twitter. Yet, I feel as though my comrades are caught in the hype and do not see just how special Kawhi is. It’s okay, I am here to enlighten you.
The Stats Test: (Oh no, more numbers)
Big stats guy here. Joking. Well, kind of. I know that analytics is actually trending south in today’s NBA Blogosphere. Some facts are hard to look away from, however. 2016-2017 was Leonard’s best season as of yet. The dude finished top 3 in MVP voting and many, much smarter basketball heads than me (see Lowe, Zach) had Kawhi as their MVP. We shouldn’t just ignore his current injury and drama filled the season. Yet, Kawhi should come back next year totally healed. So, let’s use his last healthy season for reference.
I. How many players have ever averaged:
25 pts/g, 5 3PAs/g, 37% 3P, PER 27
Want the answer? 4. Durant has done it 3 times, Curry twice, McGrady once and Kawhi once. The pretty rarefied air we’re breathing now.
II. How many players have ever averaged:
25 pts/g, 5 3PAs/g, 37% 3P, 4,5 DWS (defensive win shares)
I included DWS in here to measure Kawhi’s impact. After all, he is a two-time DPOY (more on that later.) Want to know how many people are on this list? Two. Kawhi and future HOFer Paul Pierce.
III. How many players have ever:
Been on 2 First Team All-NBA Teams
Been 2x Defensive Player of the Year
Been a Finals MVP
You guessed it. Two. Hakeem the Dream and Kawhi are the only two occupants of this list. Leonard’s blend of offense and defense is truly rare. Not many players can impact the game the way he does on both ends of the court.
The Eye Test (bout time)
For all intents and purposes, we haven’t really seen Kawhi play in a year. His 9 games this year were a small sample size and he was coming back from an injury. Yet, his 2016-2017 season was his best, so let’s look there. Want to see him run from 45 feet out to chase down one of the best at-rim finishers ever?
How’s the offense, though? Oh, here is just a clip of Kawhi taking future All-Defensive Team member Victor Oladipo to the rim. The handle. The speed. The explosiveness. The Finishing. Is it all their folks?
How’s the jumper though? Thank god you asked. Nothing to see here, just Kawhi hopping his way into a step back over one of the best defenders in the League.
III. The Value
If I was an NBA general manager, what would I give up for Kawhi Leonard? The better question is, what wouldn’t I give up. The guy is a top 5 NBA player when healthy. Seriously. I’ll show you the list:
Does Russ play defense like Kawhi? No. Does Giannis have Kawhi’s jumper? No. The only name you could argue onto this list is Anthony Davis. Even then, Kawhi’s positional value gives him the slight edge.
Let’s put this in perspective. Would I give up Jayson Tatum and assets for Kawhi? You betcha. Tatum is going to be great, sure. But not many players have a peak akin to Kawhi’s. If you want to gamble that Tatum is going to be a 2x DPOY, top 3 MVP vote getter, Finals MVP, and 2x First-team All-NBAer, then keep him. I’ll take Leonard.
Pretend the Lakers want to land Lebron this offseason. Would I give up Ingram and Kuzma for Kawhi? Wouldn’t think twice.
Let’s head East again. Philly wants to make a jump. Fultz, Saric and multiple firsts for Kawhi? Hard yes.
Now, for the most sacrilegious of trade scenarios (prepare yourself, Utah fans.) Donovan Mitchell, assets and salary filler for Kawhi. No brainer.
Hey one quick note: IT’S KAWHI FREAKIN’ LEONARD!
Photo Via GQ.