Kawhi Leonard is without question one of the best players in the NBA. But what needs to happen for the LA Clippers star to bring home the MVP Award?
The LA Clippers have one of the best two-way players in the NBA in star forward Kawhi Leonard. The nine-year veteran has established himself on both sides of the ball and become one of the most decorated players in the league today. Leonard is a four-time All-Star, this year bringing home the game’s MVP trophy, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, three-time member of an All-NBA team, five-time All-Defensive team, and two-time NBA champion with two Finals MVP awards.
He’s an MVP-caliber player, but has yet to take home the Maurice Podoloff trophy. It’s certainly not a knock on him, only one player each season have that honor. It’s an award that generates countless hours of debate from fans and analysts. We wanted to take a look at what would need to happen for Leonard to finally be named the league’s Most Valuable Player.
The simple answer: play 75-82 games in a single season at the level he’s currently producing. That should do it.
Although in reality, it’s most likely not going to be that simple. The 28-year-old Leonard has learned the value of proper rest and applied it to his regular season schedule. Part of the reason why he was able to play at such a high level in last season’s run to the NBA championship with the Raptors was by limiting himself to a total of 60-games played over the regular season. He avoided excess stress to his body, allowed himself to properly recover from injuries, and was fresh and rested for when it mattered most.
Making a championship run is the most important thing for the Clippers. They’re out to contend for a title now, and don’t need to run Leonard ragged during the regular season to keep pace with the rest of the pack. They’re a deep and talented team and can afford to keep a close eye on their top star’s minutes and games played.
So does that mean it would be impossible at this point in his career for Kawhi to win an MVP? Not exactly, but it does ramp up the level of difficulty by quite a bit.
Narrative plays a major role in what player will take home the MVP award each season. The term “Most Valuable Player” is nebulous and not clearly defined which creates discussion and debate about the true meaning of the award.
Should it go to the best player in the league? That’s not necessarily the case or LeBron James would certainly have won even more than four MVPs in his 16-year career. Some say it’s an award for the “best player on the best team” but it doesn’t always go home with a player who leads the team with the league’s best record.
Creating a narrative around his season would be the key to Kawhi Leonard taking home his first MVP trophy, even in a season where he’s getting proper, regular rest and not playing over 70 games.
The first step would be team success. The Clippers would need to have the best record in the NBA over the regular season to kick-start the discussion of why Leonard should be named MVP. If the Bucks or the Lakers outpace them in the 82-game marathon award talk will certainly start with Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron once again, as it does this season. But if the Clippers can rise above them Kawhi would elevate from fringe-MVP candidate to a real threat to win the award.
While team success for the Clippers with and without Kawhi would be part of the puzzle for him winning the award, they couldn’t be too good in his absence without possibly hurting his chances either. It seems like a bit of a contradiction, but the team would have to be in a sweet spot where they were still able to win enough without Kawhi to hold the best record in the league, but look like something was missing when he sat out. The on/off advanced statistics would have to show that the Clippers were a significantly better team with Kawhi on the court to help promote the narrative for an MVP-winning season. Making a good team great, or a great team legendary is the type of stuff perfect for crafting an MVP-worthy story.
Another potential factor that could help Leonard’s MVP case would be if more stars in the league started taking a page out of his book for limiting games and minutes played. LeBron is already there, and has been for years. The 26-year-old reigning MVP Antetokounmpo seems to be in prime position where he’s both young enough and skilled enough to be the front-runner for the award every season for the near future.
But if the Bucks hit a wall in the playoffs, or Antetokounmpo struggles at all with durability, the team might start to watch his play with a closer eye. Unfortunately for Leonard’s MVP case the Bucks have been so good this year, Giannis has been able to limit his minutes played to just over 30-per-night while still having the most productive season statistically of his career. There’s certainly a reason why he’s called the Greek Freak.
As great of a player as he is, Antetokounmpo is not unsurpassable as an obstacle in Leonard’s way towards an MVP season. In fact, for how good Leonard has been this season, we may see an even greater level of play from the star when action returns. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has commented that Leonard is working out hard during the NBA hiatus and is expected to return “in phenomenal shape” perhaps, even better than before. One major reason for Rivers’ optimism is the fact that Leonard is now getting to work on conditioning and aspects of his game that he did not get to work on during the previous offseason, due to his commitment to rehabbing from previous injuries.
An even-better Kawhi Leonard would be a scary thing to see, and taking things up to a higher level at this point in his career would be the perfect icing on the cake to create an MVP narrative for the star.
The battle for the NBA’s MVP award is never easy, but it’s certainly one that could be won for the LA Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard if things can align themselves perfectly. Ultimately, the goal for Leonard and the team is to win an NBA championship above all else, but there’s always room on the trophy case when the award is inscribed with Most Valuable Player.