LA Clippers: Why is Kawhi Leonard overlooked as the NBA’s top player?

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

LA Clippers’ superstar Kawhi Leonard is often excluded from the title of the best player in the NBA because one thing has restrained him his entire career.

When the topic of whom the best player in the NBA has come into recent discussion, the players mostly involved are LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, and Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets. While those are understandable answers, one player often overlooked is Kawhi Leonard of the LA Clippers.

Leonard has built up a notable reputation over the years as he has earned accolades such as two-time NBA Finals MVP, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and three-time All-NBA selection, among many others. Still, as good as the 28-year-old has been over his nine-year career, he has never received the title of the best player in the world among a widespread audience.

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Why is this? What do James, Antetokounmpo, and Durant have that Leonard does not? The answer is a league MVP award. Over his nine seasons in the NBA, Kawhi has never placed in genuine contention for the MVP honors, which has ultimately stopped him from having earned the nod as the best player in the league.

Even after being awarded the Finals MVP last season for having led the Toronto Raptors to their first-ever championship Leonard is still disregarded. The forward continued his case for the honors this season for the LA Clippers as averaged up career-bests in points, assists, and tied his career-high in rebounds.

Although he had an MVP-caliber season before the NBA suspended operations, it was still considered a two-person race between Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James by most. The argument that this is due to Leonard having missed a handful of games compared to those other two is a standard answer for why Kawhi was not involved, as the forward has nursed a knee issue all season.

Leonard’s health has largely been the reason why he is not higher on most MVP ladders for several years now as he has not played over 60 games in a season since 2016-17. Regardless, the MVP award is the best player during the regular season, and not for the year as a whole. Leonard has collected two NBA Finals MVP trophies because once the postseason begins, he transforms into a completely different player.

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For example, Kawhi finished ninth place in the MVP voting last season, not receiving any first or second-place votes at all after he missed 22 games. This would be the same season that he defeated eventual MVP winner Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Eastern Conference Finals and advanced to win his second championship with as many teams.

All Kawhi Leonard has cared about his entire career is winning the most lucrative prize, the NBA title. Even if that means having missed out on some regular-season games and his chance at MVP honors, Leonard has always sought after the championship above all else.

Still, to be regarded as the best player in the league is going to require at least one MVP award, no matter how transcendent Leonard’s postseason play is. At just 28 years old and after having had a career year this season, Kawhi could undoubtedly win the MVP award down the line. If he does take home the award at any point, it could absolutely earn him the title of the world’s best player.

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