3 players stand in Kawhi Leonard’s way of winning NBA MVP

Jan 18 2019, 3:45 am

It didn’t take long for Toronto Raptors fans to chant “MVP” for Kawhi Leonard. Given it began during just his second game with his new team, it was probably premature.

But as Leonard has hit his stride this season, fans are being proven right.

After months of patience with his health and managing his playing time, the results are paying off. The Raptors are second in the NBA with a 34-13 record and Leonard is showing everyone that he is back to his old self as one of the best players in the league.

In 36 games this season Leonard is averaging a career-high 35 minutes, 27.6 points, and 7.9 rebounds per game. He is also averaging 3.1 assists  and 1.9 steals per game. Earlier this week he was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the second time this season.

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He leads the Raptors in points per game, rebounding, and steals per game and ranks fifth in the NBA in points per game and sixth in steals per game.

His scoring has not only been great by his standards, but historically great as well. Leonard has scored the fourth-most points through the first 35 games with a new team, putting him with some elite company.

Leonard has taken the third most shots in clutch time, while Synergy Basketball ranks him as the second most efficient offensive player in the league among high volume players.

Kawhi certainly belongs in the MVP discussion, though he has competition. Here’s how he compares to some of the league’s other MVP favourites:

1. James Harden

The league’s reigning MVP is looking to defend his crown by scoring at a historically high rate. Over the past 20 games James Harden has averaged 41.2 points per game, becoming the fifth player in NBA history to do so.

Harden leads the league with 35.4 points per game (a career high) while also leading in three-point field goals made (199), free throws made (411), and minutes per game played (37.3).

He also has been averaging 8.5 assists, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game and ranks seventh in offensive efficiency for high volume players in Synergy Basketball’s rankings.

His scoring frenzy has carried the Houston Rockets to fifth place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference with a 25-19 record and in doing so is staking his claim for a second straight MVP trophy.

According to NBA.com’s MVP Ladder, Harden is the player to beat this season for MVP.

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a force to be reckoned with this season and is the only player in the Eastern Conference that can rival Kawhi.

The Greek Freak has been a threat on both ends of the floor averaging 26.4 points, 12.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.4 steals per game. He ranks ninth in the league in points and seventh in rebounds per game.

He ranks fifth in offensive efficiency among high volume players and leads the league with a defensive rating of 98.6.

The Bucks are on top of the NBA with a 32-12 record, and most of that has to do with their superstar.

3. Stephen Curry

It’s become a routine thing to have Stephen Curry in the MVP discussion and the 2018-19 season is no different.

According to Synergy Basketball, the 2015 and 2016 MVP is the league’s most efficient high volume offensive player scoring at a rate of 1.18 points per possession.

So far this season he’s averaging 29.8 points, 5.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game. He leads the league in three-point percentage and is second in the NBA in points per game behind Harden and second in free throw percentage.

The Golden State Warriors lead the Western Conference with a 31-14 record and only trail the Bucks and Raptors as the league’s best team. As they look to win their fourth NBA championship in five years, it will be Curry’s proficient scoring that will take them there.

While there is plenty of basketball to be played this season, it’s clear that when you look at the numbers for Kawhi, there’s a strong case to be made that he’s back as one of the NBA’s top talents.