Kawhi Leonard is only 23 years old but he looked as if he was a 15 year veteran in the NBA Finals. Leonard shows tremendous poise, which is rare for a player that has been in the league for only three seasons. In the regular season, Leonard averaged 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds. He is also a terrific defender as he was on the All-NBA Defensive Second Team.
Leonard has gone a long way as a shooter, as he is a career 38% three point shooter, after shooting 25% in two collegiate seasons at San Diego State. In the finals Leonard showed that he could score on his own as he was hitting difficult shots with the defense (Miami) keying in on him. Leonard averaged 17.8 points and 6.4 rebounds in the finals. After two sub-par games to start the series, Leonard went on to score at least 20 points in the final three games.
After winning the Finals MVP, does Leonard deserve a spot among the top five small forwards?
The first spot definitely goes to LeBron James, the four time NBA MVP and 10 time NBA All-Star. James is not only the best small forward in the NBA, but he is arguably the best player. James averaged 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 6.4 assists last season. James lost the battle to Leonard in the finals, as he failed to beat the Spurs for the second time in three attempts in the finals, but it’s hard to mention Leonard with James in any conversation.
The second spot goes to Kevin Durant, who is closing the gap on James. Durant won the MVP award last season and his Thunder team fell short to Leonard and company in the Western Conference Finals. Durant averaged 32 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 5.5 assists last season. Durant is the second best player in the NBA without question.
The third spot goes to Paul George. The decision is tough, but he gets the slight edge over Carmelo Anthony at this point of his career, as a better overall player. George averaged 21.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists last season and is seen as one of the better defenders in the league. A leg injury suffered last month in the team USA showcase game will cause him to likely miss the season.
The fourth spot goes to Carmelo Anthony. Anthony is one of the better scorers in the league in the last decade. He averaged 27.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists last season. He is always a target of criticism as it seems that he makes the playoffs almost every year and have a quick exit. Anthony at times appears to be too one dimensional, but he is still an elite player.
Here is where it gets interesting. There is a big gap between the fourth spot and fifth spot . You can make an argument for a few players like Rudy Gay, Nicolas Batum, and Leonard. In my eyes, I believe that Batum holds a slight edge over Leonard, despite what Leonard did in the postseason. An argument can be made that Leonard shines because he is in the “right system” with the Spurs. Batum averaged 13 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.1 assists last season with Portland. Despite shooting the three at a lower percentage (36%), he is still a better shooter than Leonard. Batum holds a significant edge as a passer and rebounder as well. Leonard is a better defender, despite Batum being known as a good defender. You can’t go wrong with either forward as both have the potential to climb up this list soon.