Jun 15, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) speaks during a press conference after game five of the 2014 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NBA Finals MVP: Kawhi Leonard the Next Scottie Pippen?


After winning the 2014 NBA Finals MVP award, we can start comparing Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs to some of the greats. Sure, he doesn’t compare to Michael Jordan, Larry Bird or even Paul Pierce at this point because of the longevity of their careers, but we can try to project where Leonard is going. Can he turn into the next Scottie Pippen?

FIRST, SOME KUDOS

Leonard is the first non-star to win the NBA Finals MVP award since Chauncey Billups in 2004 (unless you argue that Tony Parker isn’t a star…he is). He not only played great and played within the Spurs’ system, he also did an admirable job ensuring that the Miami Heat’s star LeBron James was limited to being a scorer and not much of a facilitator.

With that said, it is just Leonard’s third year in the NBA and at age 22, he’s got a ton of room to grow. He’s 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds, which labels him as a small forward, but he proved with his defense of James that he’s also able to guard players with more bulk. It’s not a stretch to imagine him guarding Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh as well.

REMEMBERING PIPPEN

Feb 9, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Chicago Bulls former player Scottie Pippen waits for the game to start between the Arizona Wildcats and the Oregon State Beavers before the first half at McKale Center. Arizona won 76-54. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

For those who don’t remember, Scottie Pippen was a legendary player who was often overshadowed by Michael Jordan. In the Chicago Bulls’ first championship of the Jordan/Pippen era (1991), Pippen averaged 21.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.1 blocks. If someone averaged those kinds of numbers these days, we’d enshrine them into the hype Hall-of-Fame without question.

Pippen was listed at 6-foot-8 and 210 pounds, though his chiseled frame made him look (and play) a lot bigger. He also played in an era where physicality was a way of life and didn’t have any problems staying healthy (Pippen missed just 13 games in his first six seasons). He was a serviceable scorer when he needed to be, but seemed to be at his best with Jordan at his side setting him up. Defensively, he was a beast and ended up with eight NBA All-Defensive first team selections and two second-team selections for good measure. Pippen finished his career at No. 6 in NBA history with 2,307 steals.

Despite his average height, Pippen was a terrific rebounder, averaging 7.9 rebounds during his prime (1991-1995). Passing the ball, Pippen was also terrific, as he averaged 6.1 assists during that same time. He was truly a player who could do a bit of everything and if it wasn’t for the enormous shadow of Jordan, we’d remember Pippen a LOT more fondly.

KAWHI’S CEILING

Before we go crazy and say that Leonard is certainly the next Pippen, we have to take a step back and take a deep breath. Yes, Leonard has shown that type of game, where he can do everything from hitting an open jumper to making the right passing decision to bottling up the opponent’s best player. His raw numbers were close to where Pippen’s were after their first three seasons. Take a look at this chart:

Player G MP FG% 3P% 2P% FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Kawhi Leonard 188 28.0 .505 .376 .559 .803 5.8 1.6 1.6 0.6 1.0 1.7 10.9
Scottie Pippen* 234 30.8 .479 .250 .499 .650 5.5 3.7 1.9 0.9 2.6 3.3 12.9
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/16/2014.

After those first three seasons, Pippen exploded. In season four, Pippen averaged 17.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.1 blocks (this was the 1991 championship season). Pippen then improved upon those numbers, starting his prime years that carried through the 1995 season.

Leonard showed us his talent and his potential in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, where he scored 20 points with 14 rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks on a very efficient 7-for-12 from the field. Kawhi isn’t anywhere close to the kind of passer that Pippen was, but he hasn’t had to be. The Spurs run a very team-oriented offense that swings the ball from side-to-side as well as any other. It’s not as easy to rack up assists in an offense like that, whereas Pippen often played the part of the triangle that directly set up opponents for open looks.

Is Leonard the next Pippen? He’s shown that he has the ability. He’s got the frame, the makeup and the coach to help him get there. Longevity is something we’ll never know until it’s over, but safe to say that’s his path. His ceiling is to become the next Scottie Pippen, who just happens to be one of the 50 greatest players to ever play the game.

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Tags: 2014 NBA Playoffs San Antonio Spurs

  • Michael Modahl

    I like this. It’s really not out of the question.

    • Mika Honkasalo

      totally agree. Kawhi is amazing

  • Phyuck Yiu

    Leonard is severely underrated, I am a Spurs fan and have closely followed, always watching his full offensive/defensive highlights.

    SA’s record to start off the season with him was 32-10, when he broke his hand they struggled greatly, dropping to 8-8 over the course of his injury. The very 1st game he came back SA went on their historic 19 game winning streak.

    He sets the tone from the get go, I noticed a ton of his scoring occurred within the first few mins of the game, as soon as he gets the rebound he ALWAYS pushes the ball this allows SA to get out and run, play as a true team, get mismatches, this is when they are almost unbeatable.

    He makes VERY few mistakes, he takes efficient shots in offense, and rarely screws up on defense, that’s exactly what you want in a player, the less mistakes they make, the greater contribution.

  • Phyuck Yiu

    I’ve always thought he was SA’s MVP, this just confirmed it.

    He’s developing incredibly fast, he’s got an array of moves on offense, his mid range jumper is absolute money, his 3 ball is as well, he’s an elite post player, floaters/layups/dunks, turn around jumpers, etc. he’s probably the most complete offensive player on SA.

    He’s also shown play making ability, not necessarily amazing passes, but just making the right pass at the right time, similar to Parker.

  • Tyrone Bowman

    I know you’re not slighting Kawhi Leonard for calling him the next Scottie Pippen, but in a way it feels like that. As great as Pippen was, he was rarely the best player on the floor. Michael Jordan can be blamed the most for that. Leonard was the regular-season MVP for the Spurs and clearly deserved the NBA Finals MVP. Not many guys go from guarding the likes of Dirk to Durant to LeBron in the playoffs. At 22 I’d like to think Kawhi’s ceiling is higher than Scottie’s career. Leonard’s a gym rat and very humble. Whatever Kawhi accomplishes, he’ll probably be as unappreciated as Tim Duncan by the fans and media.

    • Phil Watson

      Speaking of unappreciated, let’s throw Scottie Pippen into that mix. Michael Jordan didn’t put Pippen in the Hall of Fame all by himself.

      Thanks to having a famous teammate, Pippen might be the most unappreciated great player in the history of the league.

      • Michael Meehan

        Totally agree.

        It is crazy to think that someone being compared to SCOTTIE PIPPEN is a slight in any way. Guy was an amazing player, in every facet, named to the top 50 of all time and certainly one of the best small forwards ever.

      • Darrien

        No question kawhi great but hes still only 23 and he has a really really really great team but when manu and tim retire hes gonna have to step up more at least averaging 20 point per a game i think its possible but i think they should play him but rest tim and manu like they did for parker last year to see what kawhi can do without tim and manu when duncan won his first mvp we knew he would get it because he was so good now with kawhi when he won it i thought it was gonna be a close call no doubt kawhi better defensively then anyone having to guard lebron this year and last year kd russle westbrook dwade they put him to always gaurd the best players he can steal block and get rebounds kawhi is better defensively i think better than paul george but not offensivly his career high was 29 and that was not to long ago if you compare him to paul george and his scores there high but we perfer defense over offense but media only see wins and scores but put kawhi on anybody he cant stop lebron or paul of course but he can challenge you will see next year although he is very young

  • Barstool Blues

    Leonard has shown nothing that he’s going to be the next Scottie Pippen…that is so ridiculous. For one, Pippen was basically a 6’7″ point guard and Leonard plain just doesn’t have the ability to run an offense like that. You can’t be the next Scottie Pippen if you don’t have the ability to run a team. He hasn’t shown that he can be close to as good as a scorer as Pippen was either. Scottie generally took a backseat as a scorer to get others involved, but he had it all whether it be the long ball, bank shot, penetration, posting up etc…Leonard has not shown that he can take over a game as scorer like Pippen could. Scottie was also a legendary defensive player who could carry a team as a 3…Leonard has been a good defender on a good defensive team. Scottie had the 95 bulls at 2nd in the league in defense…a team that had lost Jordan and than Grant who were 2/3 of their best defensive players along with Pippen. Leonard should actually do something close to Pippens level before he can be called “the next scottie pippen”.