April 18, 2017
As the NBA regular season races to a finish and teams battle for the final playoff spots, the field for the MVP award narrows down to a select few.
If you talk to just about anyone these days, seems like it is either going to James Harden or Russell Westbrook.
But should it? No one can deny that Westbrook is doing his best impression of a one-man team who occasionally eyes 20/20/20 stat lines and quadruple-doubles. And it’s true that the only thing more overwhelming than James Harden’s beard is the barrage of 3-point shooting and offensive firepower that he leads on the Houston Rockets.
But what voters fail to notice amidst all this flashiness is the silent, imposing form of Kawhi Leonard standing over in the corner.
Leonard is quietly putting up a terrifyingly efficient offensive season that outshines both Harden and Westbrook. At the same time, night-in and night-out, he also frequently guards and shuts down the other team’s best player.
But enough setting the stage, let’s look at some stats.
(Warning, this is going to get fairly geeky so just hold your breath while we dive in.)
To start with, let’s get a gauge of how Leonard stacks up against the two in terms of shooting. However, instead of comparing the traditional statistic of Field-Goal percentage between the three, we’ll look at two more important and illuminating stats; their true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage. These stats take into account several factors that give a clearer picture of offensive efficiency.
Currently, Kawhi Leonard is posting a stellar 61.7 true shooting percentage while sporting the seventh highest usage rate (which measures what percentage of the time a team’s possession ends with a certain player) in the NBA. These may just seem like the words of a certified stat geek, but the reality is they indicate that Kawhi Leonard manages to maintain a level of consistent offensive prowess that is usually reserved for athletic centers and superhumans named LeBron James.
What is even more mind-boggling is that despite having one of the highest usage rates, Leonard is one of the safest playmakers in the NBA because he has one of the lowest turnover percentages amongst league leaders.
But the really impressive thing about Leonard is that he maintains this MVP-caliber level of offensive play all while doing the same on defense, which is something that neither Harden nor Westbrook can come close to saying. The defensive foibles of the latter are noticeable and well-documented.
There are entire videos dedicated to Harden’s frequently apathetic and laissez-faire approach to defense. Westbrook is no more innocent, notorious for his relaxed, carefree jogs back on defense that leave his team scrambling to defend as 4 vs. 5.
Kawhi Leonard is unparalleled as a two-way player in today’s game. Kawhi will never stoop to arrogance, but he doesn’t have to. His play speaks for itself.
In the end, with regards to the MVP race, will efficiency and advanced stats triumph over triple-doubles and three-pointers? Probably not. But come June we’ll see how things stack up when the real prize, the NBA championship, is on the line.
Contact Matthew Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org.