2017-18 should be San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard’s year to win the NBA MVP Award.
The NBA MVP voting won’t be for another nine months. The 2017-18 season hasn’t even started, so there’s plenty to happen. That means 82 games are on the way for the best players in the NBA to stand out and earn their way into the MVP voting in the summer. Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs applies to this.
Leonard entered the MVP voting for the first time in his six-year career after the 2016-17 season. He finished third, behind Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and James Harden of the Houston Rockets. Westbrook won the award.
A new season is on the horizon, however, which means Leonard has another opportunity at the award. If anything, he has a greater chance at winning.
If he captures the award, he’ll join these players from the past 10 years:
- 2016-17: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
- 2015-16: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
- 2014-15: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
- 2013-14: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
- 2012-13: LeBron James, Miami Heat
- 2011-12: LeBron James, Miami Heat
- 2010-11: Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
- 2009-10: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
- 2008-09: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
- 2007-08: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
It’s an impressive list of superstars to live up to. Most of the list will reach the NBA Hall of Fame, unless Rose’s early production gets him in.
Leonard’s journey toward the 2017-18 MVP Award begins on Wednesday, Oct. 18 when the Spurs face the Minnesota Timberwolves. Let’s fast-forward, though, and look at why he’ll capture the award at season’s end.
San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard’s competition for the 2018 NBA MVP Award is good on paper. Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, James Harden, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry might all have a case at season’s end. However, all these players are apart of superteams, with multiple superstars playing with them.
If James has a healthy Isaiah Thomas, these two and Kevin Love should become a formidable trio this season. Harden and Paul are playing with each other on the Houston Rockets, so they might cancel each other out. Irving is playing with Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, and a bevy of young talent. Westbrook got Paul George in the offseason. Durant and Curry are part of one of the NBA’s deepest and greatest teams of all time.
Just for who these players are with could take them out of the running for the MVP Award. That’s no guarantee, as they’re all big-name players that can be factored into the conversation. Looking at the 2016-17 MVP Award voting, though, it came down to Leonard, Harden and Westbrook, players that were the best on their respective team.
if that’s the case in 2018, then Leonard should be at the front of the pack. LeBron might be there, too, depending on how the Cleveland Cavaliers look next season.
Next: Standout games
To have an MVP season, standout games are needed. Russell Westbrook won for his double-digit totals of triple-doubles, along with his triple-double average, the first player to do this since Oscar Robertson.
For Leonard, getting to these stats can’t be expected. What can be, is consistency.
The Claw isn’t a player that will go for 50-60 points. He likely has that ability, if the Spurs weren’t such an unselfish team (a good thing). That showed in the 2016-17 season, when he had 26 games of 30-plus points. Only one topped 40 (41 against the Cleveland Cavaliers).
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That’s over one-quarter of the season with Leonard scoring that many points in a game. He also went below 20 points just 16 times, another impressive feat. None of them were single-digit games.
Leonard stayed consistent across the board, from rebounds to assists and a steady one or two blocks per game. It wasn’t flashy but built his statistical averages up and kept them consistent, while the San Antonio Spurs managed to be the No. 2 team in the Western Conference, again.
Consistency will be key toward keeping Leonard in the MVP race. That means little-to-no lulls. Given what happened last year, should that even be a concern?
Next: Potential for career-high numbers
3. Potential for career-high stats across the board
In each year of Leonard’s NBA career, his scoring average increased. It started and finished like this:
- 2011-12: 7.9 points
- 2012-13: 11.9 points
- 2013-14: 12.8 points
- 2014-15: 16.5 points
- 2015-16: 21.2 points
- 2016-17: 25.5 points
The last season was when Leonard received the full superstar recognition. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker were the faces of the San Antonio Spurs, but with age, retirement, and injuries hitting these players it allowed the San Diego State product to step into the limelight, even in a subdued fashion like Duncan.
Based on the career trends, why not expect Leonard to increase his scoring average? It’s gone up by at least 3.7 points per season. 25.5 is high, and most star players even struggle to get beyond this number or 26-27. However, as he enters his prime, will that mean a take-off in points, again?
Leonard has the potential for a 27 or 28-point season. As noted, he had 26 30-point games in 2016-17. 58 of the 74 total games he played were for 20-plus points. If he can push the 30-point totals up and eliminate a handful of the games he scored below 20 in, is this 27 or 28 scoring average attainable?
If so, it’s a solid addition to an MVP resume. An increased scoring average can only help, so will it add to his first-place voting tallies?
Next: Wide gap between first and second-best Spurs
2. Wide gap between first and second-best Spurs
On most of these superteams, the difference in talent between one superstar and the other is small or impossible to differentiate. That goes for Paul and Harden in Houston, George and Westbrook in Oklahoma City, Curry and Durant in Golden State, and Irving and Hayward in Boston.
For the San Antonio Spurs, that’s not the case. There’s a distinct difference between Leonard and Aldridge for the No. 1 and 2 players on the team, respectively.
If this was 2015, the gap would be smaller. Aldridge was a top power forward who came off a 23-10 season for the Portland Trail Blazers. On the Spurs, he never topped 19 and 9.
As noted, Leonard’s scoring totals have increased in every season, only making him look like a better player. While this happened, Aldridge’s numbers went down.
As the clear-cut player on a top team, Leonard will get an easier ride toward the 2018 NBA MVP. Especially if his scoring totals increase, again, along with the Spurs reaching the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference. That will exceed the expectations, according to ESPN’s projections this summer.
This is just another stepping stone toward Leonard’s MVP case. What’s the top reason for him to win the award, though?
Next: Spurs placement in the standings
1. If the Spurs finish in second in the Western Conference
It’s no coincidence the MVP winners are from the best teams in the NBA. Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant all won when their respective team was one of the best or at the top of the league.
The San Antonio Spurs haven’t had a losing record since the 1996-97 season, so Kawhi Leonard won’t find an issue here. They’ll finish in the top-eight and make the 2018 playoffs, which will be one of the last checkpoints needed toward his MVP resume.
A top-four finish will help, as well. Just cracking the playoffs wouldn’t be enough for Leonard, unless he has a historic season. However, with the consistency and legacy this team built since the 1998-99 season, look for a top-end finish in the Western Conference, potentially between second and fourth.
The No. 2 spot would be ideal for Leonard and the Spurs, falling below the Warriors. It’s above the improved Rockets team, the new-look Thunder, the upstart Timberwolves, and others. With Durant and Curry playing with Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, they won’t win an MVP anytime soon. So if the voting goes toward the No. 2 team in the Western Conference, likely the second-best record in the NBA, then Leonard benefits.
What are the top reasons Leonard should win the 2018 NBA MVP in June?