LA Clippers star Kawhi Leonard should be an All-NBA lock

Kawhi Leonard has struggled to remain healthy since joining the LA Clippers, but he's returned to elite status with an All-NBA worthy 2023-24 campaign.
Kawhi Leonard during LA Clippers v Charlotte Hornets
Kawhi Leonard during LA Clippers v Charlotte Hornets / Jacob Kupferman/GettyImages

Over the course of the past 13 seasons, few players have embodied the term “enigmatic” quite like LA Clippers star Kawhi Leonard. Quiet off the court and laser-focused on it, Leonard has a résumé that pairs all-time great accolades with sadly limited availability due to extensive injury issues.

Throughout the 2023-24 regular season, however, Leonard has offered a reminder of the fact that he is, in fact, one of the greatest players in NBA history—and a deserved lock for All-NBA status.

Leonard, set to turn 33 in June, is well on his way to his sixth career All-NBA nod. Combine that with two NBA championships, two Finals MVP awards, two Defensive Player of the Year honors, and seven seasons as All-Defense, and there are few who can measure up to the specifics of his accomplishments.

In fact, the only other player in NBA history who has won both Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year on multiple occasions is Hakeem Olajuwon—an all but consensus top-15 all-time player.

Important context, of course, is the fact that Finals MVP was introduced in 1969 and the first Defensive Player of the Year was named in 1983. Across a more than adequate sample size of 40 completed NBA seasons, however, the fact remains that Leonard and Olajuwon have done something that no one else has accomplished in that timeframe.

Despite injury setbacks, Kawhi Leonard is unmistakably elite again

Unfortunately, Leonard has also appeared in just 229 out of a possible 384 games since leading the Toronto Raptors to the first and only championship in franchise history in 2018-19.

Appearing in just under 60 percent of his team’s games since making the move from Toronto to Los Angeles isn’t exactly the most encouraging of facts. Neither is the unfortunate reality that, during that time, he missed a complete season due to injury and was absent for an additional 30 games in 2022-23.

In 2023-24, Leonard has done far more than just damage control by appearing in 68 of a possible 76 games for the Clippers. He's officially reaffirmed his elite status.

13 years after he was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs, the resurgent Leonard is averaging a career-high 34.3 minutes played per game. He’s also on pace to set a new career-best mark in field goal percentage at 52.5 percent.

Throw in marks of 41.7 percent from beyond the arc and 88.5 percent at the free throw line, and Leonard has been one of the NBA’s most efficient scorers in 2023-24.

With an eFG% of 58.5, Leonard ranks 28th in the NBA—and reaches 21st if you trim the list down to players who have attempted at least 50 three-point field goals. With 336 three-point field goals attempted, Leonard's efficiency becomes even more impressive.

The 32-year-old currently ranks 11th in the NBA in eFG% among players who have attempted at least 300 three-point field goals.

Kawhi's impact on winning is undeniable

More importantly, Leonard has been the steadying force for a Clippers team that has experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows. Currently sitting at fourth in the Western Conference with a record of 48-28, the Clippers have gone 40-18 since since dropping to 8-10 on November 30—good for a win percentage of .690.

For perspective, that win percentage would give the Clippers the third-best record in the NBA behind the Boston Celtics (.789) and Minnesota Timberwolves (.697).

The correlation between Leonard's presence and the Clippers' team success is undeniable. Over the course of the 2023-24 regular season, the Clippers are 13.4 points per 100 possessions better when Leonard is on the court than when he's not—and allow an unfathomable 9.1 fewer points per 100 possessions defensively when he’s on the hardwood.

The Clippers' 111.1 defensive rating with Leonard on the floor is their best with any player who has appeared in more than three games—and their mark of 120.2 without him is, by far, their worst.

In terms of efficient scoring and defensive value, there are few who produce as reliably as Leonard. That’s been true throughout the entirety of his prime, but the fact that it’s still true as he nears 33 years of age and aspires to overcome a laundry list of injuries is downright absurd.

As the Clippers prepare for what may be their last hurrah as far as pursuing a championship with their current core is concerned, one regular season conclusion should be clear: Leonard is an All-NBA lock.

This has been a rewarding season for both Leonard and his fans, as the praise he’s garnered as an all-time great is being solidified once more. Whether as a Spur, a Raptor, or a Clipper, and even in a somewhat depleted form, Leonard is doing things that few others are capable of.

Fans must not take that for granted considering, since 2017 alone, he’s suffered a sprained left ankle, right quadriceps tendinopathy, a partially torn right ACL, and a torn right meniscus.

The damage that the right side of his body has endured realistically should have forced Leonard into either retirement or living off of his name in subpar NBA lineups. Instead, he’s still looking like a franchise player on a potential contender.

He may not be able to impose his will as consistently as he once did during the regular season, but he’s paced a team that looked lost at sea to potentially having home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Regardless of what happens in the postseason, Leonard has stared adversity in the eyes and proven to still be an All-NBA level player.

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