It’s nearly a forgone conclusion that Stephen Curry is going to win the MVP Award for the 2nd straight season, and deservedly. He’s lead his team to a historically great record and improved on much of his statistics from his MVP campaign of last season.
We’d be remiss to neglect Kawhi Leonard’s case for MVP, however. Errors are made when haphazardly succumbing to the powerful groupthink attached to any decisions that appear all too obvious. Often times it is precisely the simplest answer that’s the most sturdy, but other alternatives must at least be exhausted to ensure that the conclusion being unanimously reached is worthy of such a distinction.
Leonard is the best player on a historically successful team in its own right. Less than a dozen teams in the entire history of the NBA have won as many games as the Spurs have this season.
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Leonard is asked to be the main component of both the offensive and defensive identity of the Spurs, and has proven to be the best two-way player in the NBA. He’s the only guy in the NBA who ranks in the top 10 in both Offensive Real Plus-Minus and Defensive Real Plus-Minus. These measurements are supposed to estimate a player’s on-court impact based on both points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions. The only player in the NBA who has a higher total Real Plus-Minus than Leonard is Curry, who contributes the vast majority of his value on offense as opposed to defense.
Leonard is the defending Defensive Player of the Year, and probably deserves to win it again. He’s a huge reason that San Antonio gives up the less points per 100 possessions than any other team in the league.
His defensive prowess is what originally set him apart as a unique player when he entered the league, but the development of his offensive game is what has caught a lot of people by surprise. His scoring and assist averages have both improved each year he’s played.
This season, he averaged over 21 points per game and shot over 50% from the field. He’s also established himself as an elite perimeter shooter, hitting 3s at just over 44%, which is good for 3rd in the NBA.
The Spurs are lucky enough to have the most valuable two-way player in the NBA, and Leonard’s individual talent has helped San Antonio become possibly the most well-rounded team in the league. The Warriors may have the superior record, but the Spurs hold the distinction of being the only team in the top 3 in both points scored per 100 possessions and points allowed per 100 possessions.
Leonard’s commitment to excellence on both ends of the court makes it impossible for him to be ignored in the MVP discussion. Curry has been remarkable this season, but Leonard has also been phenomenal. He’ll likely be the second choice on numerous ballots, and any other year he’d be the favorite to walk away with the MVP Award.
A championship obviously means more to him than any individual accolade, however, and if Curry does in fact win the MVP, look for it to motivate Leonard and the rest of his teammates toward the ultimate prize.