NBA Playoffs 2017: Kawhi Leonard Proving He is MVP Worthy.

Apr 4, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) reacts after a shot against the Memphis Grizzlies during the second half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 4, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) reacts after a shot against the Memphis Grizzlies during the second half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports /

In a crucial game five, the San Antonio Spurs were able to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies at the AT&T Center, taking a 3-2 series lead.

With their backs against the wall, the Spurs emerged victorious last night, beating the Grizzlies, 116-103, needing just one more game to advance to the second round.

The Houston Rockets defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder last night, so the second round matchup for the Spurs is set. All they need to do is beat the Grizzlies one more time.

The Rockets will have almost a week off to rest.

According to the NBA's Key Dates, Round 2 doesn't start until May 1.

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) April 26, 2017

The Spurs can’t look ahead just yet. They have to beat the Grizzlies in Memphis tomorrow night, something they have yet to accomplish this season.

To beat a Grizzlies team on the road, the Spurs will need an entire team performance, something they also haven’t been able to accomplish on the road this post season.

Pau on what it's going to take to be successful in Game 6: "We're going to have to make more plays than they do."

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) April 26, 2017

This brings me to Kawhi Leonard, the center piece of the Spurs organization, and a player who has simply carried his team to victory so far in the playoffs.

Leonard playing like a superstar? At this point, most people aren’t surprised. I mean, the guys on TNT were already dubbing him the “second best player in the NBA” behind LeBron James.

However, when it came to MVP voting, people leaned towards James Harden and Russell Westbrook, because they have been playing on far less talented teams.

After watching five games so far this post season, i’m not so sure how true that statement is.

By The Numbers

Leonard has been sensational this post season. An argument can be made that Leonard has been the best player so far in the first round of the playoffs.

In five games, Leonard is averaging 31.6 points per game on 58% from the field, 54% from three point range, and 98% from the free throw line, along with 5.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals.

"We all tried to attack the paint tonight," said Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs driving and kicking out for 3-point looks.

SA made 14/28 3s.

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) April 26, 2017

Where does Leonard rank in terms of his offensive production so far?

Offensive efficiency? First.

True shooting percentage? First.

Offensive rating? First.

Offensive win shares? First.

Win shares? First.

Win shares per 48 minutes? First.

Free throw percentage? First.

To say that Leonard has been sensational, is a massive understatement. I mean, look at these offensive numbers for a guy who’s primarily known for his defensive abilities.

How Much Help Does Leonard Really Have?

The argument all season against Leonard has been, “He plays on the Spurs with Gregg Popovich, and they always win games, no matter who’s on the court.”

So, let’s take a look at Leonard’s help offensively, and compare it to Harden, Westbrook, and James’ help offensively so far in the playoffs.

Leonard is averaging 31.6 points per game. LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, and Patty Mills are the other players averaging double-digits in points. Aldridge is averaging 14.4 points per game, Parker is averaging 14.2 points per game, and Mills is averaging 10.2 points per game.

Oh, and Leonard is leading the Spurs starters in both offensive and defensive rating.

Kawhi Leonard has now scored double figures in 25 straight playoff games – longest streak by a Spur since Tim Duncan's 26 from 2011-2013.

— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) April 26, 2017

Westbrook, who was just eliminated last night, was averaging 37.4 points per game.

In terms of help, he’s the only one of the MVP candidates that has a legitimate beef. Andre Roberson and Victor Oladipo were the other two players averaging double-digits. Roberson averaged 11.6 points per game, and Oladipo averaged 10.8 points per game.

Westbrook did not lead his starters in offensive rating, but he did defensive rating.

Nevertheless, when Westbrook was off the court, the Thunder were -58. That speaks for itself.

Spurs now have 80 playoff wins at the AT&T Center. Most home wins in NBA since AT&T opened in 2002:1. Spurs- 802. Heat- 693. Lakers- 54

— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) April 26, 2017

Harden, on the other hand, just eliminated Westbrook and the Thunder, advancing to the second round. He is averaging 33.2 points per game. Lou Williams, Eric Gordon, Nene Hilario, and Patrick Beverley are ALL averaging over double digits. Williams is averaging 18.8, Gordon is averaging 13.6, Nene is averaging 13.6, and Beverley is averaging 11.6.

So much for no help, right?

Harden led his starters in offensive rating , but not defensive rating.

"We definitely moved the ball better tonight & we made shots," said Pau Gasol.

SA collected 23 assists tonight, their most in the series.

— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) April 26, 2017

James, who just swept the Indiana Pacers, hasn’t lost a first round game since 2012. He is averaging 32.8 points per game. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are also in double-digits. Irving is averaging 25.3 points per game, while Love is averaging 15.5 points per game.

Not only does James have two other scorers in double figures, he has Irving, who is averaging 25+ points per game, more than the leading scorer on several other teams. Love, the Cavaliers third leading scorer, is averaging more per game than Aldridge and Parker.

James is leading his team in defensive rating, but not offensive rating.

The Bottom Line

The idea that Leonard is playing on such a talented team is simply not true.

Aldridge is 31, Parker is 35, Manu Ginobli is 39, Pau Gasol is 36, and David Lee is 33. The reality is that these Spurs are on their last leg, and have benefited greatly from Leonard’s all-around play, both in the regular season, and in the playoffs.

Kawhi Leonard has scored 158 points through the first 5 games of the playoffs, 2nd-most in Spurs history behind George Gervin in 1978.

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 26, 2017

Could Leonard be Leonard without Popovich? Of course not, but that’s not the point. The point is he has Popovich, and look at the kind of season Leonard just had.

Ask any analyst before the season started that the Spurs would win 61 games in the regular season, second in the NBA behind the loaded Golden State Warriors, and a majority of them would tell you that’s “wishful thinking.” 50 games? That’s more probable.

Yet, here we are, and Leonard has elevated his play in the post season, proving to fans around the league that he has, and continues to, carry this Spurs team on his back.

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How far can he take them? We’re about to find out.