Is Kawhi Leonard Underrated?
That question is entirely subjective. If you view Kawhi Leonard as a top 5 player in the NBA, and the best two way player in the league, then he is justly acclaimed. Leonard is a different kind of beast in every facet of the game.
From his quiet emergence on the NBA scene to his premature NBA Finals MVP award, Leonard has exemplified poise, maturity, improvement, attention to detail, and execution. Every year, he has found a flaw in his game, and has drastically improved it. Every year since his rookie year, Leonard has increased his points per game by at least 3.8 points (with the exception of his third season). Additionally, he has developed into one of the elite rebounding wings in the association.
Are you starting to see a trend?
Leonard made his mark coming out of college with his on-ball defense. It is what launched him into Gregg Popovich's starting lineup as a rookie and was one of the reasons the Spurs were able to win the 2014 championship behind his Finals MVP performance.
But this early success hasn’t stopped him from trying to take his game to another level. Already an elite defender he was still able to improve drastically, going on to win Defensive Player of the Year in consecutive seasons.
Offensively, Leonard's 3-point shooting has developed in leaps and bounds. A 37% 3-point shooter for the first 4 years of his career, Leonard connected on an amazing 44% last season, making him third most accurate 3-point shooter in the league. High outside accuracy, coupled with his 53% mark from inside the arc, makes him an extremely efficient scorer.
Leonard has been everything a coach could ever dream of: the best defender in the league, an efficient scorer with a lights-out shooting touch, and perhaps the most coachable personality in the league. In the offseason, he sought the council of 5-time NBA champion, Kobe Bryant, only proving how badly he wants to great.
Yet even with all of the personal improvements and the Spurs’ annual dominance of the Western Conference, Leonard is rarely at the top of MVP ladders. Yes, there are a couple players in the NBA better than Leonard. Even more so, it is hard to vouch for the guy when he has a system that facilitates the team's greatness, and he is competing against a guy averaging a triple-double and another near it! Still, it is hard to fathom how the season he is having most likely won't garner league MVP honors.
The player who most deserves NBA MVP is of course subjective. It is not always awarded to the best player in the league, but who has the best season. But if we are strictly talking about who are the best players in the NBA, Leonard can't fall any further than 4th on the list.
LeBron James is the best player in the world and it has been that way for 7 going on 8 years now. Kevin Durant is a close second. After that, everyone else is up for debate. You could make a case that Leonard is a better overall player than the 2-time reigning MVP, Steph Curry, especially when you consider their abilities on the defensive end.
The area in Leonard's game that needs some improvement is his facilitating ability. As of right now that is the most glaring difference between himself and the likes of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. I am not saying Leonard has to be a walking triple double or average 8-10 assists, but to be fair, his career average of 2 assists per game is alarming. His 3.3 assists this season are still not good enough. Yes he plays in a free-flowing offense, but so do the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics.
If Leonard can improve to 5, or even 6, assists per game while maintaining his 25.5 points and 6 boards, you can't tell me he doesn't have a legitimate claim to the best in the world title. Leonard is primed to be the best player in the game and what makes me so sure is his track record. He has targeted every flaw in his game. Money has it he realizes this one this offseason, and tackles it head on.