Kawhi Leonard's incredible season is being overshadowed by Stephen Curry
No matter how well he played this season, Kawhi Leonard could never garner the kind of acclaim he truly deserved.
That's par for the course with Leonard and his San Antonio Spurs, of course. They fly under the radar every season, cruising along to 50+ wins and deep playoff runs year after year. They've made dominance a boring endeavor, which is an accomplishment in itself.
So in 2015-16, it didn't matter that the Spurs won 67 games and pushed the Warriors until the very end for homecourt advantage in the playoffs. And it didn't matter that Leonard likely had the best second-place MVP showing since a guy by the name of Michael Jordan in 1996-97. Stephen Curry and Golden State consistently gobbled up all the oxygen in the room. By the time we got around to talking about Leonard, there wasn't anything to say.
Perhaps it's because of Leonard's quiet demeanor. More than even Tim Duncan before him, the latest Spurs' star eschews any and all attention. But that's really just a convenient excuse. The real reason we overlook Leonard is the nature of his game.
He's never going to bowl you over with ridiculous couting stats. This season, for instance, Leonard averaged 21.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. True, only eight other players managed at least 21 points, six rebounds and two dimes this year, and they're all All-Stars. Yet when you look at those numbers alongside Leonard, they're boring -- the inevitable result of a methodical process that slowly crushes the dreams of those who stand before the Klaw.
Leonard's game isn't about numbers; it's about control. In the same way Curry destroys an opponent's defensive game plan, Leonard forces opposing coaches to completely alter their offensive schemes. He doesn't need to be guarding the man with the ball to wreak complete havoc. Coach Gregg Popovich will stick Leonard on your most important offensive player and grin his Popovichian grin as that man is shut down in a torrent of limbs, enormous hands and perfect fundamentals.
Things could have gone poorly for the Spurs this season, as Tim Duncan started his descent into retirement and the team worked to integrate a player like LaMarcus Aldridge into the system. For other squads, that kind of turmoil can spell growing pains. But the Spurs had Leonard, their bastion who kept things chugging along even while San Antonio retooled on the fly.
When there were mistakes on defense because people were unfamiliar with their roles, Leonard was there to clean up the messes. When the Spurs needed the type of last-second heroics which they typically avoid, Leonard stepped up and knocked down clutch jumpers. In any other season, he would have had every claim to the MVP award as his own. Only timing and the existence of that point guard by the Bay kept Leonard from wrapping his mitts around the hardware.
Curry had a better season, without a doubt. But Spurs fans know how valuable Kawhi Leonard really was this season. Consider it their little secret.