Evaluating NBA talent is a mixture of interpreting objective data with the subjective intangibles that dictate human behavior.
Statistics and metrics may be paramount in the end, but there’s still something to be said for the more abstract idiosyncrasies that shape how a player will react to certain stimuli on the court.
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Kawhi Leonard is now the undeniable star of the San Antonio Spurs, and his talent as an offensive force and defensive stopper justifies that distinction.
His defensive analytics and his lofty points per game totals cement him as a worthy alpha-dog for the Spurs, but the requirements for success don’t stop there.
The truly remarkable players in this league not only have the ability to put up staggering numbers, but have the emotional aptitude to seize the moment within the narrative of the game and will their team to victory.
Leonard was the 2014 NBA Finals MVP before he was putting up superstar statistics. He has that special ability to be able to carry the emotional weight of his teammates during a game and make plays to ensure victory.
It’s a mental battle as well as a physical contest in an NBA game, and how players react in dire situations may take precedent over kinesthetic prowess.
If a guy who has scored 30 points in the first 45 minutes of a game can’t get the
critical basket to clinch a win for his team in the final few minutes of a match, his contributions prior suddenly look emptier.
The counterargument is without that specific player’s contributions prior to crunch time, the team would never be in a position to even think about pulling out a victory.
However, it’s demoralizing to realize that in a moment when putting the ball in the hoop is absolutely essential to the team’s fate, the likelihood of that player coming
May 12, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) warms up before a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game six of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
It’s almost like a person you know going out of their way to do favors for you whenever it’s convenient for them, but when you actually need them to come through for you, they’re nowhere to be found.
It’s much easier to put up gaudy point totals in the 2nd quarter than it is the 4th quarter, because the game isn’t on the line at that point. Miss a few shots in a row in the 1st half, and the comfort of knowing that there’s time to make up for it eases the mindset of players. That luxury evaporates as the game gets closer to concluding.
The NBA is a hierarchy of not just teams, but players. There are a lot of players that can fairly be acknowledged as elite talents objectively, but the players on a pedestal above even those few always seem to have the ability to elevate their game at the most crucial moments.
Basketball is a team game, and the unique superstars always seem to inspire their teammates to dig deep within themselves to come through at clutch moments.
Less than 5 players in the entire world are capable of impacting a game in the way he can, and when that talent is removed from the game not due primarily to defensive strategy, but the mental acceptance of that player, it’s very troubling.
Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook possesses the confidence in his abilities to stay with his game. The difference is that he simply doesn’t have the efficiency of former teammate Kevin Durant, so he can easily shoot his team out of a game with erratic perimeter shots and careless drives to the hoop that the defense can lure him into.
The Thunder were blessed to have two superstars, but it has always seemed dubious that they can lead the Thunder to a championship. One guy has the skill set without the personality necessary, and the other guy has the personality without the skill set that best compliments it.
The Spurs should be feeling very happy that their superstar has the internal ingredients to compliment his physical talents.
It’s foolish to expect a team like the Thunder to ever give up on a duo like Durant and Westbrook, because their talent and potential will always be so alluring. It’s an unenviable situation to be in, because the ability is certainly there, but something intangible might be missing, and no amount of roster tinkering can fix it.