The Kawhi Leonard-led Spurs are in first place in the Western Conference. That may not last, of course — the Spurs share the lead with a Warriors team that has little reason to be losing the way they are. But the fact is no team in the NBA has a better record than the Spurs. And the Spurs, in all their decades of success, have never had a player — not even Tim Duncan — who has carried such a large load for as good a team as Kawhi Leonard has done this season. Leonard is the best defensive player on the court every night while averaging 26.3 points per game. (Also a defensive master, Duncan’s highest total was 25.5ppg and he never topped 20 during the last decade of his career.) It’s time for NBA MVP voters to recognize the rhyme that should guide them: “Can’t Deny Kawhi.”
The other most-talked-about MVP candidates are the perennial LeBron James, Celtics sensation Isaiah Thomas, the Rockets’ offensive juggernaut James Harden and triple-double genius Russell Westbrook of OKC. All of them are far and away the most important players on their teams. It’s just that their teams aren’t as good as the Spurs this year. (And the one team that is, Golden State, doesn’t have a player as critical to its success as Leonard, despite Durant’s new prominence.) Only James is close to Leonard on defense, which is half the game. Consider that the Kawhi Leonard-led Spurs are ahead of the Harden-led Rockets by 6.5 games and Westbrook’s Thunder by 15. Take tech stocks as an example of defining value: Facebook can’t run without Mark Zuckerberg, its most valuable player, and Twitter can’t run without its own MVP, CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey (it tried). But Facebook is way ahead of Twitter in terms of value, sitting in first place like the Spurs. Kawhi Leonard is the Mark Zuckerberg of the NBA this year — the others are Jack Dorseys. That’s a good thing to be — Dorsey, like Harden, is brilliant at his game. But there’s only one NBA MVP: Can’t Deny Kawhi.