Toronto Raptors: Kawhi Leonard’s MVP case

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

Kawhi Leonard has taken his game to a new level in his first season with the Toronto Raptors and has to be considered an MVP candidate.

Throughout the course of his career, Kawhi Leonard has always been a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the court. This year, however, as the undisputed leader of a re-energized Toronto Raptors squad, he’s taken things to a whole new level.

Back in October, expectations for him to repeat his magical 2016-17 season with the San Antonio Spurs were quite obviously tempered. Coming off a suspect quad injury, nobody knew for certain whether he’d be able to get back to where he was during his peak with his former team.

But boy, we are only 47 games into his Toronto Raptors tenure, and he’s been impressive, especially as of late.

In the month of January alone, he’s been the closest thing to a walking bucket, as Leonard has averaged 31.3 points per game, sporting a 57 percent field goal percentage and sinking his shots from downtown at a 36 percent clip.

His proficient shooting was especially highlighted by two separate 40-point burgers; one against the Utah Jazz, in which he put up a career-high 45 points, and another one in a wild double-overtime thriller against the Washington Wizards in which Leonard scored 41.

It’s his best offensive work to date.

His scoring numbers have been nothing short of incredible so far, but they might just be starting to be historic at this point. Leonard has now scored the fourth-most points through his first 35 games with a new team, putting him in some elite and pretty well-established company.

Additionally, Toronto has a 10-1 record when he takes 22 or more shots in a game, exemplifying his impact on the court once he gets into his rhythm.

Overall, the Raptors have the best record in the association, sitting pretty in second place in the Eastern Conference at a 34-13 mark.

Not to be understated, Leonard has been a huge reason why, and that combination of player success leading to the team’s great performance throughout the regular season is something voters love to see.

Furthermore, his chances of winning the MVP should be only improved once his story of how he got here is taken into account. However, this doesn’t mean that he has some pretty stiff competition.

Of course, the first player that comes to the minds of many NBA fans alike when talking about the MVP race is James Harden. Look, give credit where credit’s due; his numbers so far have been mindboggling.

His streak of 30-point games has now extended to 18 consecutive games and in the past 20 games, he’s been averaging 41.2 points per game. That’s ludicrous.

Nonetheless, as is the case with everyone else vying for that prestigious award, there are several circumstances going against him.

The Houston Rockets aren’t doing too hot at the moment, sporting a 25-19 record while dealing with a barrage of injuries that have now swept Chris Paul and Clint Capela into the proverbial infirmary room.

If Harden wants to separate himself as the undisputed hottest player in the league, he has to start carrying his team to wins. Sure, the stats are nice and all, but they have to lead to team success.

Lastly, we have Giannis Antetokounmpo, a.k.a. the Greek Freak. Along with Kawhi Leonard and James Harden, he’s another quality player who’s been incredible so far.

The Bucks forward has been leading his squad to an impressive 32-12 record and a top spot in the East, averaging 26.4 points, 6.0 dimes and 12.5 boards.

Unlike James Harden’s situation, there aren’t many issues compromising Antetokounmpo’s chances to snag an MVP award, but if there’s one thing to take note on, is that whether he can close out the regular season with the same level of dominance.

Over the past two years, his stats in the March and April months have curiously been inconsistent with what he was putting up before then, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can avoid that trend this time around.

While there is plenty of basketball that is yet to be played this season, it’s clear that once you take a look at Kawhi Leonard’s play, there’s a strong case to be made that he might win the award.

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However, we’ve seen before how things can change in an instant and it’ll be interesting to see this one out as the MVP race will definitely come down to the wire.