If you’re a basketball fan, you’ve probably heard of Kawhi Leonard. Although you’ve heard of him, you may not be aware of the significance of what he’s doing. What this guy has done in the playoffs this year is nothing short of astounding and something we haven’t seen since Jordan. He’s doing it quietly and it hasn’t garnered much attention, much like the man himself. Kawhi Leonard isn’t getting the credit he deserves. Some of this can be attributed to the media’s love affair with the Golden State Warriors, but I’m here to shed light on Kawhi Leonard’s greatness. This dude is absolutely balling out.
Often referred to as “The Claw” due to his abnormally large hands, Kawhi made a name for himself as a defensive specialist. He’s been wreaking havoc on the defensive end of the floor since he came into the league in 2012, routinely locking down the league’s best offensive players. We saw glimpses of his greatness when he was with the San Antonio Spurs. He became known as “The Lebron Stopper” for his relentless defense against Lebron James and the Miami Heat in the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals. In 2014, he carried the Spurs to an NBA championship and was named Finals MVP. This season, after being traded to Toronto last summer, he has single-handedly carried the Toronto Raptors to their first ever NBA Finals.
During the 2019 NBA Playoffs, Leonard has averaged almost 32 points per game. He’s had a 45-point game, a 17 rebound game, seven 35-point games and has shot 42 percent from three-point range, all while playing unrelenting and tenacious defense. He also hit one of the most amazing buzzer-beaters in NBA Playoffs history in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semis, sending his team into the Eastern Conference Finals.
Eastern Conference Finals
In the Eastern Conference Finals, Toronto faced a formidable opponent in the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks finished first in the Eastern Conference and were arguably the league’s best team during the regular season. During the Conference Finals against Milwaukee, Kawhi helped his team mount the two biggest comebacks in franchise playoff history. The Raptors came back from a 14-point deficit in Game 5 and two 15-point deficits in Game 6. He also spearheaded a relentless defensive effort and basically locked up Giannis Antetokoumpo, who is the front-runner for league MVP. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, Kawhi’s Raptors beat the Bucks and are now headed to the NBA Finals to face the infamous Golden State Warriors.
Although Kawhi Leonard is definitely the key component of the Raptors’ incredible postseason run, the team at their best is not the Kawhi show. Sure, Kawhi will always get buckets in isolation, but when Kawhi shares the ball, he takes the team to another level. This is what makes great players great: they elevate the play of their teammates What separated players like Jordan, Kobe, Bird and Magic was their ability to make everyone around them better. Kawhi Leonard has this X-factor.
With Kawhi Leonard, it’s not only what he’s accomplished in his relatively short career, it’s the way he plays the game. He’s all business. You won’t see disrespect from Kawhi-ot Riot or any celebratory antics that are so nauseatingly common in today’s NBA. He’ll make a highlight worthy play and never change his facial expression. You’ll never see Kawhi pounding his chest after a great play. Kawhi will never talk about how great he is, because he knows it’s about the team and not the individual. You’ll never see him flop or whine to referees about a missed call, something Lebron James and James Harden do nearly every possession. Kawhi is a throwback to a better era when players let their game do the talking. In my opinion, Kawhi is cut from the same mold as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. He has that killer instinct, something Lebron James was born without. Much like Jordan, Kawhi is a closer. When he smells blood, he steps on the opponent’s throat.
Kawhi Leonard has always been known as an above-average talent. However, what we’ve seen from The Claw in the playoffs this season is nothing short of spectacular. He’s on a different level. What really sets him apart is the way he plays the game. Kawhi Leonard is a breath of fresh air in a league filled with individualism, massive egos, cry babies, and look-at-me antics. He’s the epitome of a leader and has the potential to be the best player we’ve seen since Michael Jordan. Right now, the question has to be: is Kawhi Leonard the best all-around player in the world?