Unpopular Basketball Opinion #1
Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs is not a Top 10 player in the league.
But Jeff, that’s absurd and the Spurs are one of the best teams in the league and he’s touted as one of the best defenders in the league?! Why all the hate?
I’m not trying to hate on Kawhi, in fact, he embodies much of what I love to see in a player from the eye test. Plus, he has all the advanced analytics to back up his game.
Through four and half seasons, Kawhi’s growth from an offensive standpoint is admirable.
From the beginning, he always had good length and was a great one-on-one and help defender. His on-court +/- is 15.2 for this season. His shooting numbers have gotten better and his PPG this season is 20.0 up from 16.5 last season. His rebounding is only slightly down from last season and his assist numbers are about even. His eFG% is the 2nd highest of his career and that’s with a higher usage rate and more shot attempts.
Defensively, his steals are down this year and his defensive rating is lowest of his career while his ORtg is the highest it’s been. That’s normal, he’s a focal point in the offense and that takes a lot out of you. At least, it’s not a “James Harden defensive juggernaut” act. Overall, he’s more efficient and playing some of the best ball of his career. So this all begs the question, why is he not a top 10 player currently?
I firmly believe it has to do with peoples’ perception of his offense, defense, and San Antonio’s great system.
Kawhi operates within his role and expands that role every season. The Spurs are no longer Parker and Duncan’s team. It’s Kawhi’s team.
You take him and shove him on the Rockets last season, and he would not carry them to that 2nd seed and the Western Conference Finals like Harden did. Most of this obviously is influenced by the offensive schemes, team chemistry, and skill set fit, but I don’t see Kawhi being a top 10 player without the Spurs system. It’s effective, efficient, and caters well to whoever fits their role. Put any of these 10 players and they’d put up similar if not better results.
In no particular order:
This doesn’t mean Kawhi can’t become a top 10 player, rather having a core which includes 3 Hall of Fame players in Parker, Duncan, and Ginobli, and a multi-time All-Star in Aldridge, makes it pretty easy. However, he loses in this category simply due to the fact that he’s inconsistent on offense.
He’s the first option on one of the best offenses in the league and he only puts up 20 points per game? There’s twenty other players who put up more PPG in their teams and some of them are second options. Kawhi’s offense leaves much to be desired at the moment if he’s their first option.
His game isn’t that varied and that limits his offense and keeps it inconsistent. Almost all his three’s are assisted, and his isolation game doesn’t live up to his fellow peers who are top 10 players. His post game is pretty pedestrian, and he doesn’t create too well for his teammates. So overall, his offense seems just above average to me.
Playoffs wise, that offensive inconsistency rears its ugly head. Sure, he played well in their championship run and got Finals MVP, but he was all over the place versus last year’s Clippers. People know he’s the first option and now there’s way more focus on him defensively. Sure, this might be a little nit-picky and opinionated on what I think a top 10 player should have but I think it’s totally worth noting.
Defensively, he is definitely up there in the top echelon but his defensive capabilities are accentuated by the fact that Tim Duncan, this season’s leader in DRtg, is his help side defender. Like I mentioned before, Leonard is spectacular on defense and I think he does rank in the top 10 as a wing defender and definitely locks down on everyone not named Steph Curry but that’s not without having a teammate in the paint who is an all-time great.
Spurs play team ball, last year no pleyer averaged over 17 points per game.
Gregg Popovich has all his players play within themselves and limits having a player carry too much of an offensive burden.
The addition of LaMarcus Aldridge as their star-studded free agent power forward limits Kawhi’s shot attempts and spreads the offensive load. This explains how Kawhi’s points per game has dropped steadily each month of this season.
The Spurs are a completely different team and their record suffers when he’s injured. They would not have the record they do without him on the court.
To me, a top 10 player in the league is considered more than just a star, but a super star (and this is where things get opinionated) and Kawhi Leonard is not a super star. He’s shown flashes of being great but only flashes. If you asked me, he’s in the top 15-20 tier of players in the league, not top 10.
His limited offensive game is the biggest factor for this argument, and the system that has bred him makes it even harder to put him in that top category. He has a good case as a top defender in league but in the end, just ends up as a star player clawing at the super star doors. (His “Claw” nickname really works well here)
Thanks for reading my unpopular opinion! Comment below on what you think!