For fans who tend to skip over much of the NBA regular season, you’ve probably missed the recent uprising in talk about Kawhi Leonard having a claim in the MVP conversation. Most years, Leonard’s numbers are great. But since he blossomed into a star toward the end of his run in San Antonio, “The Claw” has rarely played enough games to be seriously considered for the league’s most prestigious aeward. However, this year, many are using the Lamar Jackson argument for Leonard on the heels of what looks like the QB’s second MVP award.
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Leonard is having an amazing season by anyone’s standards and his recent push into this conversation is largely based on how well the Clippers have played. Leonard is exceptional in some categories, and in others, he’s doing what’s expected from an NBA superstar. The main thing is the team’s position in the Western Conference, which is third place and just one game behind Oklahoma City and Minnesota, who are tied at the top.
The other aspect in this surge for Leonard as MVP, and probably most surprising, is that Leonard has played in 44 of his squad’s 48 games. He is on his way to suiting up for the most games in a single season since he arrived in LA. That may actually be the biggest difference; the fact that he’s been available for more than 90 percent of the Clippers’ games.
When looking at Leonard’s argument, the first thing that stands out is scoring. Leonard is averaging 24.7 points per game, but he’s shooting 53 percent from the field, 45 percent from behind three and 89 percent from the charity stripe. Yes, he’s on the verge of joining that hallowed 50/40/90 club.
If he can raise that free-throw percentage one point and keep it there along with the other two categories, Leonard would join some legendary names. Larry Bird (twice), Steve Nash (four times), Reggie Miller, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, and Dirk Nowitzki. Former Cavs guard Mark Price and current Blazer Malcolm Brogdon are also in the club, but in a different wing. Both are/were good players in their own right, but not in the same conversation as the others.
But for Leonard to pull off the MVP upset; it’ll take more than just those fancy shooting statistics. The MVP award is usually about scoring, the same way it’s become about who the best or most productive quarterback is in the NFL. And that’s where the Lamar Jackson comparison comes into play.
Jackson is expected to win his second league MVP award, although he didn’t have the most prolific passing statistics among QBs in 2023. He threw 24 touchdowns for more than 3,600 yards and just seven interceptions. He completed more than 67 percent of his passes (career-high) with a passer rating of 102.7 (second highest of his career) and a QBR of 64.7. Those are magnificent numbers, but Baltimore being the most dominant team of the regular season is what will have likely put him over the top.
There is an argument for the Clippers being the most dominant force in the NBA since December, but we still have another few months to go. So, if they can keep up this pace, Leonard may get some MVP votes, but he’s a long shot to win it. The player to win the award and average fewer than 26 PPG was Stephen Curry during the 22014-15 campaign. That was the first of Curry’s back-to-back MVP awards and the next year he jumped up and averaged over 30 PPG.
Like they say in that corny commercial, “It’s a make-or-miss league.” The sport pretty much explains that in the name, basketball. Scoring points is the name of the game. Just seeing Leonard on the court every night and not missing many games is a prize. Whether you’re a Clippers fan or not, Leonard is one of the most gifted and well-rounded athletes in the NBA. When he’s healthy, some still believe he’s a top-five or -10 player. What he’s doing probably won’t be enough to shock everyone and win his first regular-season MVP, but if the Clips can stay on track they will be serious contenders in May and June.