The well-executed team game sometimes makes even standouts blend in. Is that why Kawhi Leonard isn’t part of the MVP talk every season –because the balanced Spurs attack obscures his contributions? Or is it because defense — much as coaches prize it — isn’t weighted properly in MVP voting? (James Harden finished second in MVP votes last year, which should answer that last question.) Because Kawhi Leonard is pretty much the 21st century Scottie Pippen and whatever you think of LeBron James, there’s no Michael Jordan on the scene these days. With no Mike, Scottie’s the best thing going.
If the MVP is the opposing player that gives other players and coaches the most trouble sleeping the night before a game, then Kawhi Leonard must be in the running. He averaged a very efficient 16.5 points last year (not traditional MVP numbers). But the scoring must be seen together with his Defensive Player of the Year status, an accolade that’s almost an understatement given how much trouble Leonard causes on D. (Consider that the play below, where he picks MVP Steph Curry’s pocket, shows his seventh steal of the game.) It may be that with LaMarcus Aldridge now a Spur, Leonard’s offensive output will look even less gaudy as the Spurs rack up wins. But Leonard will have the ball in his hands a lot, especially since coach Gregg Popovich wants to score more points per game this season. If Kawhi Leonard isn’t in the MVP conversation, they should stop having it.