Comparing Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard as free agent fits for the LA Clippers

TORONTO, CANADA - NOVEMBER 29: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors and Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors look on during the game on November 29, 2018 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - NOVEMBER 29: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors and Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors look on during the game on November 29, 2018 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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The LA Clippers are expected to go after both Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard this summer. But if they can only have one, who should they choose?

In less than a month, the NBA’s free agency period will officially kick off. And while we have some idea as to what the LA Clippers will do with all of their money, we still have no idea which player (or players) will be the face of the franchise next season.

The two names that have circulated all year long in rumors are Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, who, not coincidentally, are the two best players expected to be available this summer.

Durant, 30, is a former MVP and one of the greatest players in the world. Leonard, 27, is arguably the best two-way star in basketball and has already proven what he’s capable of. Each would be an excellent addition to the Clippers this summer, but chances are, LA will only be able to land one of the two.

It would take a lot to create both max-level spots, although I doubt that would stop the Clippers from attempting to do so. Not only would they need to renounce the rights to a few players, but they would also need to trade Danilo Gallinari, who was their best player all year long and had a shot at All-NBA honors this season. The money isn’t the only thing that may keep LA from signing both, though.

For now, all signs are pointing to Durant signing with the New York Knicks, or re-signing with the Golden State Warriors. A similar situation applies to Leonard, who is expected to re-sign with the Toronto Raptors. However, the Clippers have been mentioned as potential landing spots for each star, and they will be aggressive in their pursuit of each.

But if it does come down to one or the other, who would you rather see sign with LA this summer? Let’s compare:

Offense

It’s almost impossible to argue that Kawhi Leonard is a better offensive player than Kevin Durant. One of these players is a multi-time scoring champion and a member of the 50/40/90 club, while the other averaged a career-high 26.6 points per game this season.

That isn’t to say Leonard is a bad offensive player, because he’s not even remotely close to that. While he doesn’t necessarily compare to Durant as a scorer, Leonard is still one of the best players in basketball, and a large portion of that has to do with his ability to put the ball in the basket.

Leonard’s offense is also a big reason why the Toronto Raptors are doing as well as they are in this year’s playoffs. Through 21 games, he’s averaging 30.9 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in nearly 39 minutes per game. In addition, his shooting splits of .498/.379/.885 are all improvements over the numbers he posted in the regular season, despite playing nearly five minutes more per game.

It’s been a very impressive showing by Leonard, but this category still goes to Durant.

Defense

For every accolade Kevin Durant has for his offensive prowess, Kawhi Leonard has one to match for his defensive capabilities.

Leonard, now in his eighth NBA season, has already won two Defensive Player of the Year awards and has been named to the All-Defensive Team on five separate occasions — three times to the first team, twice to the second. One could argue that he’s the best defensive player in basketball, and even if he’s not, he’s easily among the top five in the league.

Durant, like Leonard with his offense, is no pushover on defense. While he’s never been named to an All-Defensive Team, Durant’s monster frame and long arms help him keep his opponents in front of him and shots never far out of reach. It’s no coincidence that he’s averaged at least a block per game in the majority of his years in the NBA.

Each player is a versatile defender with the ability to guard players of nearly all sizes, but Leonard’s suffocating style of play gives him the edge on the defense.

Fit

Both Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard are capable of playing both forward positions, which is one of the LA Clippers’ biggest needs this summer. That being said, there’s a lot more to determining a player’s fit on a team than the positions they can play.

This past season, the Clippers established themselves as one of the grittiest, hardest-working teams in the league. They scrapped their way into the playoffs with a makeshift roster that was made up mostly of players they had acquired either in-season or the summer before, and were led by competitive veterans like Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams.

As good as Durant is, that kind of mentality and style of play just doesn’t fit him as well as it does Leonard.

Although Leonard currently plays for the Toronto Raptors, his roots are in San Antonio, where he played for the Spurs for seven seasons. There, he was crafted to become that same kind of gritty, hard-working player that the Clippers were full of this season.

The Clippers’ franchise also has a sort of low-key feel about it as well, which is something that Leonard shares as well. Rather than try to steal the lights and action from the Los Angeles Lakers, the Clippers move in silence and focus more on good basketball than anything else.

For stars who want to stay out of the spotlight, the LA Clippers are the perfect destination. That’s why Leonard gets the nod here.

Intangibles

For the majority of each of their careers, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard have been mostly healthy players with good attitudes and the know-how to be excellent basketball players. Durant does have more 80-game seasons than Leonard does, meaning he’s regularly a more available player, but Leonard is showing this postseason that he may be more likely to fight through pain if it means he’ll be helping his team win.

That’s not to say Durant and Leonard’s individual injuries are similar in nature or severity, because they aren’t. Durant remaining out of the playoffs likely isn’t his decision, and Leonard hasn’t officially been given a formal diagnosis despite admitting he’s playing through some degree of pain.

What that does say, though, is this: Leonard didn’t play a single back-to-back during the regular season for the Raptors, and he missed a few other games for precautionary reasons. That changed on a dime in the postseason, as he’s played in all 21 games thus far and is averaging nearly 39 minutes per game. His ability to handle that change is a good sign of his health for the future.

Durant’s injury, on the other hand, is a bit more concerning. His recovery is happening much slower than anticipated, and while it’s still early in relation to how long he’s been held out of action, it’s not too early to start worrying about him not being 100% by the beginning of next season, especially if he ends up requiring surgery.

Outside of health, both players have incredibly high basketball IQ and know how to win basketball games. Because of that, we’ll call the rest of it an even tie. Including health, strength and determination though, Leonard gets the edge here.

Verdict

I think we all know that Kevin Durant is the better basketball player. He’s a more gifted scorer, easily an all-time great, and one of the most unguardable players in all of basketball. But all things considered, Leonard feels like the more favorable option for the LA Clippers.

Next. 3 LA Clippers players who would benefit from playing with Kawhi Leonard. dark

Fans of the team shouldn’t expect either player to sign with LA, and they should be grateful if either one does, even if they aren’t their first choice. But if we had our choice, we’d devote our time to Kawhi Leonard, not Kevin Durant.