All-Star rosters are set to be announced soon for the NBA.
And with them comes the annual debate on who got snubbed or who was incorrectly voted onto the team.
Determining who was or was not snubbed is, of course, simply a matter of opinion.
One fan thinks highly of Player A; another fan thinks Player A is overrated.
Kawhi Leonard is a certified lock to make the Western Conference All-Star Team this year.
The Los Angeles Clippers have the third-best record in the league and ‘The Klaw’ is averaging 26.7 PPG on .513/.389/.879 shooting splits.
Kawhi Leonard is averaging a career-high 34.5 MPG this season.
5.1 APG (career-high)
40.2 3P% (career-high)
He has missed 0 games for load management. pic.twitter.com/scVG76GkLC
— StatMuse (@statmuse) February 11, 2021
Leonard’s expanded offensive game has not taken away from his smothering play defensively, either.
But the overrated debate still pops up, even for perennial All-Stars.
That is because the standard against which Leonard is judged has continually shifted throughout his career.
While he was merely a role-playing defensive wing early in his career, he is now the focal point of a team.
Some even put him in the best-player-in-the-word category.
With such lofty expectations to judge against, is Kawhi now overrated?
Kawhi is a True 2-Way Superstar
Defense has been and always will be what Kawhi is known for.
But it is impossible to judge him now solely based on his defensive prowess.
Through the first 3 years of his career (‘11/’12 – ‘13/’14), Leonard averaged 10.9 PPG on 51% shooting and 1.6 APG.
Kawhi then proceeded to use the 2013-14 Finals as a bit of a coming-out party.
He averaged 17.8 PPG on 61% shooting while being named the Finals MVP against the LeBron James-led Miami Heat.
Six years ago today, Kawhi Leonard stopped a three-peat for the first time.
🔳 Finals MVP
🔳 17.8 PPG | 6.4 RPG | 1.6 SPG
🔳 Duncan’s last Finals
🔳 LeBron’s last year in Miami
Klaw was only 22. pic.twitter.com/hOGv6vILrM
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 15, 2020
This included dropping 20+ in three straight games to close out the series.
Leonard then raised his scoring average 3 consecutive seasons (5 if you discount his hold-out year when he played 9 games).
He has averaged 20+ PPG for four seasons in a row and is well on his way to making it five once this year is over.
And Kawhi is not putting up these numbers just because of high-volume.
He is scoring the ball efficiently and has done so throughout his career.
His 60% true-shooting ranks 28th all-time (TS% considers 2-pointers, 3-pointers, and free throws).
So far this year, Leonard is posting his best shooting splits since his 2015-2016 campaign.
His FGA and FTA per game are both down slightly from last year, but that is mostly due to Paul George’s elevated play this season.
Kawhi is also averaging a career-high in APG with 5.0.
People immediately think of defense when Kawhi Leonard is mentioned.
But he has developed into a truly elite offensive talent, and that is supported by both counting and advanced stats.
Incredibly Impactful Player
As talented as certain players are, their impact can occasionally be overlooked.
Not that fans don’t recognize their importance on the court, but they don’t always truly grasp just how much better certain players make their team.
Kawhi’s impact on the team cannot be overstated.
And the on/off splits are here to prove it.
Per Cleaning the Glass, Kawhi has ranked in the 96th and 98th percentiles the past two years in point differential.
That puts him up with upper-echelon players like LeBron James and Joel Embiid.
Last season saw Kawhi post a +11.4-point differential and contribute +25 expected wins.
2019-2020 Player impact ranked with on/off NETRTG
1. Chris Paul (+12.2)
2. Giannis (+12.0)
3. Kawhi Leonard (+11.8)
4. LeBron (+11.7)
5. Jayson Tatum (+11.3)
6. Damian Lillard (+8.4)
7. Rudy Gobert (+7.9)
8. Trae Young (+7.3)
9. Pascal Siakam (+6.6)
10. Devin Booker (+6.6) pic.twitter.com/PRd2qRaSJY
— PointGodCp3 (@cp3effect) December 27, 2020
He has only expanded on those numbers this season, inflating them to +17.5 and +35, respectively, albeit on fewer minutes so far.
And he is contributing on both ends.
The Clippers score 9.7 more points per 100 possessions when Leonard is on the floor, and allow 7.8 fewer points per 100 possessions.
Obviously, the on/off splits are based on numbers with 5 players on the floor, not just 1.
7 of the 10 most-used lineups with Leonard based on the number of possessions have a positive point differential.
And the two lineups with greater than 100 possessions have a +26.6 and +40.4 rating, respectively.
While the Clippers have a second superstar in Paul George, Kawhi doesn’t need him to be effective.
In 708 possessions with Leonard on the floor and George on the bench, the Clippers have a +7.3 point differential.
Kawhi’s impact on the court is visible, both watching the game live and reviewing the stats.
Kawhi is a Proven Winner
In the end, superstars are judged off of one criterion: winning.
Stats can bring All-Star appearances, All-NBA selections, and popularity.
But winning creates legends; larger-than-life figures who go down in NBA history.
Kawhi has done his fair share of winning and he hasn’t even celebrated his 30th birthday.
As mentioned earlier, the 2013-14 NBA Finals was a bit of a coming-out party for Leonard.
He made life difficult for James while helping the Spurs easily handle the superteam Heat in 5 games.
Never forget LeBron’s reaction to when 21-year-old Kawhi Leonard checked in the game 😳 pic.twitter.com/knMRQzmj8W
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 11, 2020
The performance earned him what would be his first NBA Finals MVP award.
The second would come with the Toronto Raptors a year after being traded from the San Antonio Spurs.
Toronto was a team that had been known to collapse in the playoffs.
But with James finally moving out West, Masai Ujiri acquired Leonard, knowing he would probably be leaving in free agency in a year.
The rest, as they say, is history.
👀Kawhi Leonard hits game winner in Game 7 to beat #Sixers and send #Raptors to East Finals, scores 41…says in postgame interview “last year was a down year for me, I went through a lot”…crazy shot…still tough for Spurs fans to watch. #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/6PR8SrCJsm
— RJ Marquez (@KSATRJ) May 13, 2019
He put together one of the most dominant playoff runs of all time as he helped the Raptors get over the hump and win their first NBA title.
Even though he did leave for the Clippers that offseason, Kawhi will forever go down in Raptor’s history.
The only time Kawhi Leonard would be considered overrated is if you are talking about the best player in the world.
Until further notice, that distinction belongs to LeBron James.
But Kawhi is without a doubt one of the top-5 players in the NBA.
His growth on the offensive end is truly incredible.
Going from fewer than 8 PPG his rookie season to over 27 PPG last year and nearly 5 APG.
Defensively, he can lock up the opposing team’s best player while switching between multiple positions.
The ability to defend fellow stars while carrying his team on offense is a skill few in today’s NBA possess.
And the fact he continues to play at a high level when the lights are brightest makes him all the more impressive.
Credit: u/llewellynjean via r/NBA pic.twitter.com/jvu0aCR8z1
— Reddit (@reddit) June 10, 2019
Kawhi is a truly dominant player.