Kawhi Leonard does NOT deserve MVP runner-up
Earlier yesterday, the NBA MVP votes were released. Obviously, Stephen Curry was crowned the rightful MVP. In fact, he became the first unanimous MVP in league history. While people will argue whether it was unjust for him to be the unanimous MVP or not, there is a much more horrible and distasteful fact that came out of the MVP voting. Kawhi Leonard was runner up. That’s right, the same Kawhi Leonard who had 4 30 point games and 1 game over 6 assists all season. It’s absurd and I will tell you why. Let’s start with comparing Kawhi’s stat line to some other stat lines of MVP candidates, and an average stat line of the 8 candidates who finished behind Kawhi in MVP voting
Kawhi Leonard’s stat line:
21.2 ppg, 2.6 apg, 6.8 rpg, 50.6% FG%, 1.8 spg, 17.92 EFF rat.
Lebron James’s stat line:
25.3 ppg, 6.8 apg, 7.4 rpg, 52.0 FG%, 1.4 spg, 28.32 EFF rat.
Kevin Durant’s stat line:
28.2 ppg, 5.0 apg, 8.2 rpg, 50.5 FG%, 1.0 spg, 26.28 EFF rat.
Russell Westbrook’s stat line:
23.5 ppg, 10.4 apg, 7.8 rpg, 45.4 FG%, 2.0 spg, 21.94 EFF rat.
Average stat line of MVP candidates who finished behind Kawhi Leonard
23.2 ppg, 7.5 apg 6.5 rpg, 46.4 FG%, 1.6 spg, 21.46 EFF rat.
There are a couple things to notice. First, Lebron, KD, and Russ are all superior in ppg, apg, rpg, and EFF rat. It isn’t really close either, the three combined average 4.3 ppg more, 4.8 more apg, 1 more rpg, and a +7.6 better EFF rat. In fact, Kawhi never had a single game this season better than what KD and Russ averaged during the regular season. Now, looking at the average stat line of the MVP canidates, Kawhi is better in three categories and the average of the other MVP categories is better in three categories. However, looking deeper, Kawhi’s stat line is much worse. The lower shooting percentage and .3 less rpg can be easily explained by the fact that 4 of the 8 people players whose numbers I used for the average were point guards. He puts up an atrocious amount of assists per game and in fact, his assist per game game total is dead last compared to all the other MVP candidates. Now, this MIGHT be okay if he was putting up incredible scoring numbers to explain why his assists numbers are so low, but he's not. Out of the 8 MVP candidates whose numbers I averaged, only two have less points per game than Kawhi. Those two players are Chris Paul and Draymond Green, Paul averages 10 assists per game while Draymond averages 7.4 assists per game, much better than Kawhi. On top of that, it’s not like Kawhi is ludicrously more valuable to his team than the other candidates are; he’s actually less valuable. Let’s take a deeper look.
Spurs’ record when Kawhi Leonard doesn’t play: 7-3 (.700%)
Cavalier’s record when Lebron James doesn’t play: 1-5 (.167%) (provided by @nballaccess)
Thunder’s record when Kevin Durant doesn’t play: 3-7 (.300%)
Thunder’s record when Russell Westbrook doesn’t play: 0-2 (.000%)
Clipper’s record when Chris Paul doesn’t play: 3-5 (.375%)
Need I say more? The craziest part about this though is this. Of the 8 candidates who finished below Kawhi in MVP, 6 of their teams had losing record when they didn’t play. In fact, the Spurs had the best record out of all the teams who were missing their own MVP candidates. Kawhi Leonard’s value is nowhere close to Lebron’s, KD’s, Russ’s, or CP3’s. You can even see proof of it while looking at net ratings. When Kyrie Irving, Lebron James, and Kevin Love are all on the court at the same time, the Cavs have a net rating of +10.7. When Lebron comes off the court, that net rating drops to a -3.3; that’s a differntial of +14. Meanwhile, when Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, and Lamarcus Aldridge are all on the court, their net rating is a solid +7.8. When Kawhi comes off the court, it raises to a +12.1; a differential of B+4.7 (Andrew D. Bailey).
Lastly, I am going to debunk two common statements I hear when people try to prove me wrong and that Kawhi is in the upper echelon of MVP candidates. The first is, “Kawhi’s defense is so much better than everyone else’s that it’s ok he is mediocre on offense.” Now, don’t get me wrong, Kawhi Leonard’s defense is truly beautiful. However, it is no way unstoppable. Kevin Durant is averaging 26.8 points per game in the western conference semi-finals series, and single-handedly torched Kawhi for 17 points in the 4th, and 41 in total in game 4. Stephen Curry averaged 29.3 points in his 3 games against Kawhi this year, and embarrassed him on this play. Lebron also averaged 25.5 points in his two games against Kawhi this year. This is not to bash on Kawhi’s defense whatsoever, but it shows that his defense isn’t impenetrable and should not be used as an excuse for his mediocre offense. If these players are putting up numbers while being guarding by Kawhi than Kawhi averages per game, then there is no logical reason to use Kawhi’s defense as an excuse for his average offense. The second statement is “Kawhi doesn’t need to put up crazy good offensive numbers because his team doesn’t need him to in order to win.” This statement, while true, is a horrible excuse. If Kawhi can put up average numbers and his team can still win, how is he in any way more the second most valuable player in the league? If Lebron, KD, Harden, or pretty much any of the other MVP candidates put up 20 or less points per night, their team will almost certainly lose. When Kawhi scores under 20 points, the Spurs record is an outstanding 26-3 (.896%). I calculated all the other teams of the other MVP candidates records when they score under 20 points, and the Spurs winning percentage ranks 3rd best. Although the Thunder still have a better winning percentage when Russell Westbrook scores under 20, as do the Warriors when Draymond Green scores under 20, two things must be noted. Of the 19 games where Westbrook scored under 20, he had 10 or more assists in 13 of those games, Kawhi never had more than 7 assists in a game. Meanwhile, Draymond is practically the third scoring option on a Warriors team with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, so they don’t really need him to put in a huge shift at the scoring end. Kawhi also had 29 games where he scored under 20 points. 29 games!! To put this in perspective for you, Kevin Durant had 1 such game all season, and he had to come off injured in the 2nd quarter in that game. If the Spurs are able to have that good of a record while Kawhi has a sub-par night, there is no way he can be more valuable than Lebron, KD, Russ, and CP3.
After reading my several reason and facts, I hope you all will accept the fact that although Kawhi Leonard is a great player, he does not deserve to be the MVP runner-up.
Jack Buckingham is on twitter as @nbatalkalways
*all stats acquired from NBA.com unless stated otherwise