Writer: Caleb Akpan
h/t Slam Online
The NBA’s MVP race is always interesting to look at. Whether it be stunning highlights stealing the show like Stephen Curry in 2016 or insane stats popping of the screen from Russell Westbrook and James Harden. There’s always at least few dominant players to consider for the award, and 2017-2018 will be no different. Russell Westbrook could repeat, James Harden could finally getting over the hump, or Kevin Durant could continue to dominate and get the award, but there’s one player that usually hangs back from the spotlight who has a chance to shine this upcoming season: San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard’s greatness is not in question at all. As one of the league’s best defenders, and a strong offensive force, he’s consistently spoken of, while rarely actually speaking for himself. That talking has been enough for Leonard to get second and third place finishes in the last two MVP races. Media fatigue could play a strong role in next year’s voting, and if anybody looks to benefit from it, it’s Kawhi. When talking about NBA stars, Leonard seems to get the least amount of coverage, simply due to his quiet, reserved nature. If the media looks past Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, or Curry/Durant duo, it seems likely that Kawhi would be following right behind, or even possibly be racing ahead, at least due to the next bit of reasoning.
Super Teams are becoming more popular than ever in the NBA. Most teams who have a shot at winning the championship or even making it to the Finals have at least two or even three All-Star caliber players. Last season, it seemed as if voters stayed away from the most stacked squads when making their votes, and for good reason. Two players without star help in Russell Westbrook and James Harden truly carried their teams night in and night out, putting up numbers never seen before, but things have changed over the offseason. Russ now has Paul George waiting for him on the wing and James Harden has CP3 to do some of the heavy lifting as a ball handler and team leader.
Kawhi Leonard can’t say the same, as the Spurs made few changes to their roster from last season. Big men like LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol are only getting older and continuing to lose their once great talent. Manu Ginobili will likely be entering a retirement home following next season. Tony Parker seems to be out until at least the All-Star break, if not longer, and there’s stats that show signing Rudy Gay, their one significant off-season move, could actually put the team in a worse position. With all this, the Spurs usual team-oriented style might not be able to cut it to truly compete in a Western Conference that’s growing stronger. The Claw may have to start carrying a bigger load if the usual sixty wins are still in store, and if he improves on 25 points, 5 rebounds, and just about a steal and block per game, there’s no reason he shouldn’t at least be considered as the league’s best.
Leonard’s game might not be the flashiest, and he might not show the emotion of a LeBron James or Stephen Curry, but he definitely deserves to stand on the same stage as they have. He didn’t win Finals MVP in his third season for no reason, he’s extremely talented and has shown it in the last few seasons, the opportunity just seems even greater now. If Leonard takes advantage, stat lines and highlights worthy of MVP consideration are in store for San Antonio’s superstar.