clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Kawhi Leonard might be the best player in basketball

New, comments

The quiet superstar may be looking for a new home next season. (It won’t be Dallas.)

NBA: Playoffs-Philadelphia 76ers at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2019 postseason, Kawhi Leonard has casually reminded NBA fans that he might be the best player in today’s game. Through 14 games, Leonard’s scoring 31 points on 52 percent shooting, grabbing 8.5 rebounds, dishing 3.4 assists, all while leading a shaky Raptors team.

While he’s not a free agent target for the Mavericks, he is an impending free agent and he’s so talented and a good fit on paper, it seemed strange to ignore him while considering prospective Mavericks for the 2019-20 season.

The Basics

Did you know Kawhi Leonard is just 27 years old? Perhaps it’s his recent proximity with the San Antonio Spurs or because his series defining defense against LeBron James in the 2013-14 NBA Finals happened so long ago, but its bizarre to consider that Leonard did not enter the NBA until the season after the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA championship.

Seven of Leonard’s eight seasons have been nothing short of spectacular. In his rookie season, he played in the NBA Finals and his third season resulted in a championship and a NBA Finals MVP. His fourth year with the Spurs he brought home the first of two straight NBA Defensive Player of the year awards. Leonard made the All-NBA First Team in 2015-16 and he also made his first All-Star team. He made All-NBA again the following season, this time as a second team player. He should end up on the All-NBA team again this season.

With the one exception of the 2017-18 season, Leonard’s managed to improve nearly all aspects of his game every single year. His scoring prowess, paired with his instincts and frame as a lock down defender, make Leonard the archetype of what NBA teams hope for from small forwards. While there are more unique players in terms of size, like Kevin Durant, Leonard is what comes to mind when considering the ideal NBA small forward. He can do anything and play anywhere.

His one nebulous mark came during the 2017-18 season where he played just nine games and demanded a trade. Though the final story around what exactly happened with San Antonio is murky; at minimum an injury to Leonard resulted in him opting to sit a good portion of the season despite the medical staff clearing him. He was eventually traded to Toronto where he played 60 games this past regular season and the Raptors appeared to rest Leonard as often as the schedule allowed. However, his play has been stellar and it appears they even have a reasonable chance at securing Leonard’s services beyond this season.

Strengths

Much like Kevin Durant, the answer here is “everything”. Leonard is a top notch scorer; his outside shot is outstanding, which makes him a terrifying player off the dribble both on drives and through a mid-range pull up game. He’s great with his back to the basket, moving without the ball, basically whatever a team needs. This postseason, Leonard’s become the Raptors de facto back up point guard, running a lethal pick and roll with Marc Gasol during crunch time.

While he’s become a quiet superstar on offense, defense is where Leonard’s bread is buttered. He’s the best man-to-man defender in the NBA rivaled perhaps only by Draymond Green. Leonard’s enormous wingspan, legendary hands, and incredible strength give him all the physical tools to dominate the perimeter in an era where that’s simply more valuable than a big time shot blocker like Rudy Gobert.

Weaknesses

On the basketball court, Leonard is a truly complete player. There’s nothing he can’t do and at this point he’ll spend the rest of his prime adding counters to his already insanely good game.

Off the court, he needs to continue to rebuild his reputation. By and large, the quiet narrative around Leonard during his injury-plagued season was that he sat out at the recommendation of his agent, who also happens to be his uncle, in what was seen as an attempt to force his way out of San Antonio. But that’s really inside baseball for only the hardest of hardcore fans. Most fans like his game and if anything, they want to continue to get to know Kawhi the person.

Fit with the Mavericks

This is another no brainer. The Mavericks need an additional ball handler, someone good at defense, a three point scorer, and a guy able to get rebounds.

That’s Leonard.

If this ridiculous fever dream came to pass, Leonard would elevate the Mavericks from a playoff hopeful to a contender in the Western Conference. He’d give Rick Carlisle a lineup versatility he’s not known since the 2010-11 season. I think Leonard would fit with Luka and Porzingis as well; Luka has a large personality but he is also a fiery competitor and guys that want to win more than anything else always seem to click.

This would work! Now let’s all will it into existence.