Having a career year in his first season with the LA Clippers, superstar Kawhi Leonard has seemingly become underrated by many due to circumstances.
After leading the Toronto Raptors to their first-ever championship last season, all eyes were focusing on where Kawhi Leonard would take his talents to next. Sticking with the Raptors was seemingly the apparent answer at the time, but it was the LA Clippers that got him in the end.
Following the incredible postseason run that led to their championship, it came as a shock that Leonard left them after just one year. The forward had just won his second Finals MVP award and could have possibly started a dynasty had he stayed in Toronto.
Immediately after winning the title, the discussion was not if Leonard was capable of being a top-three player in this league, but the best overall player. The forward’s incredible postseason run solidified him among the best, and many were wishing to see what could have been for the future of the Raptors with Leonard at the helm.
However, when Leonard bolted to his hometown Clippers, he seemingly became underrated as this season progressed. This is very peculiar considering the 28-year-old is averaging career-highs in several categories and has been sensational all year.
Leonard averaged a career-best 26.9 points and 5.0 assists per game, while the forward tied his career-best in rebounds as well at 7.3 per game. Overall, he was having another fantastic season, possibly what could have been his best to date.
Regardless, although Kawhi was leading the Clippers to the second seed in the Western Conference, he was being overlooked all season before the hiatus. This is because of the rivaling Los Angeles Lakers’ recent success — although the constant load management doesn’t help either.
The spotlight around the league was centered around the rejuvenation of the Lakers, who were recently able to clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2013. LeBron James and Anthony Davis were proving to be one of the league’s best duos and have overshadowed the success of the Clippers significantly.
With James leading the way, what the Lakers have been accomplishing this season is incredible as the first seed in the Western Conference. James was putting together an MVP case all season long, which overshadowed the spectacular year Leonard was having in his first season with LA.
Because of Leonard’s efforts, the Clippers were having one of their best seasons to date. The team’s championship aspirations were higher than ever because of the reigning Finals MVP, who elevated them from the 8th seed last season to the potential top seed this season.
The Clippers were just 5.5 games back of the Lakers in the standings at the time of the stoppage and had a genuine chance to claim that first seed with 18 games remaining. Regardless, the Lakers return to stardom after more than half a decade of sorrow has shifted the attention to the purple and gold.
To say Leonard was underrated this season might be taking it a step too far, but sharing a city with James and the Lakers certainly does not help. Many were already predicting that the Lakers were a lock to make the NBA Finals, disregarding the Clippers chances entirely even though they lead the season series two games to one.
Less than a year removed from his incredible postseason performance, the world has seemingly forgotten about what Leonard is capable of, particularly on the biggest stage. Throughout 24 postseason games last season, Kawhi averaged a phenomenal 30.5 points per game and brought the Raptors their only championship in franchise history.
Although there were no guarantees the two teams would meet, a top-heavy Western Conference Finals battle in LA could have been memorizing to see. Leonard might not get the chance to show out in the postseason this year, but luckily he’s not going anywhere for a while.