Kawhi Leonard: The Most Overrated Player in the NBA


Kawhi Leonard is one of the 10 best players in the NBA. His defense is sensational, as evidenced by him winning back to back Defensive Player of the Year awards. He doesn’t have a diva attitude, which fits perfectly with the San Antonio Spurs. He’s improved mightily as a scorer as his career has progressed(his PPG has increased every season of his career). He’s also a good rebounder too. He’s already won a title, a Finals MVP, and been an All-Star to go along with his 2 DPOY awards after just 5 years in the NBA. On the surface it’s easy to assume he is a superstar considering all of these things, but the media and fans go WAY overboard in their praise of him and quite frankly I’m tired of it.

Believe it or not there once was a point where Kawhi Leonard was actually underrated. In the 2013 NBA Finals at age 21, he averaged 15 PPG & 11 RPG on 51% FG in a losing effort to LeBron James’ Miami Heat. I came away highly impressed and felt that he was going to be the future of the Spurs. I kept my eye on him the following season as the Spurs tore through the NBA which resulted in them winning their 5th title in franchise history after getting revenge over LeBron’s Heat. Kawhi was phenomenal over the last 3 games of the series and won Finals MVP. This is where the narrative around Kawhi started to change. He was no longer some unknown young kid, he was the FINALS MVP, people everywhere began talking about how he had outplayed LeBron, which quite frankly wasn’t true, LeBron averaged 11 more PPG, 2 more RPG, & 2 more APG than Kawhi in the series. People talked about how he SHUT DOWN LeBron, which again was just not true, as LeBron still put up 28 PPG 8 RPG & 4 APG on 57% FG in the series. Full disclosure, I am a big LeBron James fan so yes I can be biased in his favor, but at the same time I have no problems admitting when he gets outplayed like he was in the 2011 Finals, but in this case I didn’t agree with the hype Kawhi was getting, as the stats disproved every “Kawhi owned LeBron” narrative.

Heading into the 2015 season, Kawhi was seen as a top 25 player in the NBA by most media outlets. Once again, this is a player who went from being totally off most people’s radars to a top 25 player just off of 3 great games in the Finals. Kawhi put up good but not great numbers that season, 16.5 PPG 7.2 RPG 2.5 APG 47.9% FG, while keeping his insane defense. By season’s end most people were already calling him a top 10 player and a future MVP candidate. Remember, heading into the 2015 playoffs Kawhi had NEVER even scored 30 points in ONE game. What makes any player truly overrated isn’t the praise they get when they play well, it’s the criticism they DON’T get when they don’t play well, and Kawhi’s 2015 playoffs were a perfect example of this. Through the first 4 games of the playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers, Kawhi was sensational, as he averaged 25-7-3 on 60% FG. However, over the last 3 games of the series, a series which the Spurs lost, Kawhi struggled mightily as he averaged just 14-8-2 on a horrid 30% FG. There was no criticism of Kawhi whatsoever from any media outlet, this was a guy who was supposed to be a top 10-15 player and a future MVP and he completely crapped himself. Other superstars would have gotten roasted for performing the way Kawhi did over those last 3 games, but most people completely overlooked it, well not me.

Nonetheless this season the Kawhi hype train kept rolling. Most of his praise was deserved, he averaged 21-7-3 on 51% FG while continuing his great defense on a 67 win team. At this point I have no problem calling him a top 10 player in the NBA, however, people still find more ways to overrate him. Now we have many media pundits and voters saying Kawhi Leonard deserves a 1st Team All-NBA spot over LeBron James or Kevin Durant. On top of that, the media is saying Kawhi is MORE valuable to the Spurs than LeBron is to the Cavs and Durant is to the Thunder by placing Kawhi 2nd in MVP voting behind only Stephen Curry. Let’s get something straight here people, Kawhi Leonard is not on LeBron James or Kevin Durant’s level as a basketball player, period. For whatever advantage Kawhi possesses on defense over LeBron, who is a great defender himself, or Durant, who is an average defender, the advantage LeBron & Durant have on offense over Kawhi more than makes up for it. Let’s compare them by their per 100 possessions averages this season, which makes up for the difference in minutes played and pace while also including their teams W-L record in games they didn’t play in:

Durant: 39.1 PPG – 11.3 RPG – 7.0 APG – 50.5% FG – 3-7(30.0%)

LeBron: 36.5 PPG – 10.7 RPG – 9.8 APG – 52.0% FG – 1-5(16.7%)

Kawhi: 32.8 PPG – 10.6 RPG – 4.0 APG – 50.6% FG – 7-3(70.0%)

LeBron & Durant already had the advantage over Kawhi in terms of scoring and rebounding, but what clearly separates Durant and especially LeBron from Kawhi offensively is the assists. Kawhi is just not a good playmaker or passer and he is nowhere close in this department to LeBron. To quantify this fact even further, let’s compare the 3 in terms of Points Scored + Points Assisted(PS+PA), which takes into account how many points each player scored themselves, while adding the points they generated off of assists and then dividing that total by their number of games played:

LeBron: 3,182 PS+PA / 76 G = 41.9 PS + PA per game

Durant: 2,854 PS+PA / 72 G = 39.6 PS+PA per game

Kawhi: 1,948 PS+PA / 72 G = 27.1 PS+PA per game

Even if you go by production on a per-minute played basis, the facts remain the same:

LeBron: 3,182 PS+PA / 2,709 MP = 1.18 PS+PA per minute played

Durant: 2,854 PS+PA / 2,578 MP = 1.11 PS+PA per minute played

Kawhi: 1,948 PS+PA / 2,380 MP = 0.82 PS+PA per minute played

Kawhi fans usually retort by saying, “he isn’t asked to do as much since he plays for the Spurs” or “he doesn’t need to do as much as LeBron & Durant”, which in and of itself proves that Kawhi isn’t as valuable as either of them. If Kawhi isn’t asked to do as much, how can he be as valuable or somehow MORE valuable?

In my mind, Kawhi Leonard should be 2nd team All-NBA, he should get some 4th or 5th place MVP votes, but he should NOT be considered on the same level as LeBron & Durant are OR as valuable as they are. You could say that in this case, LeBron & Durant are like Michael Jordan and Kawhi Leonard is like Clyde Drexler. Drexler was a great player in his own right but he wasn’t Jordan. Just like Kawhi is a great player in his own right, he’s not LeBron or Durant, and the longer people keep putting him in their class the longer Kawhi will continue to be the most overrated player in the NBA.




About Emanuel Godina

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    April 21, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    What makes any player truly overrated isn’t the praise they get when they play well, it’s the criticism they DON’T get when they don’t play well

    • Owen Kirkwood

      April 21, 2016 at 6:45 pm

      Thank you for finally knocking some sense into people.

  2. Shawn

    April 21, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    Great article. I thought I was the only one who felt like this. Great twitter btw.

  3. Jamison

    April 22, 2016 at 1:21 am

    Obviously Kawhi isn’t the offensive playmaker LeBron or Durant are yet. However he is a lot closer to their offensive ability than they are to his defensive ability (LeBron would be closer if he cared to try all the time but his body isn’t at that level anymore to do it for the whole season). Also, Kawhi’s Usage rate ranked 43rd in the league this year; LeBron was 6th and Durant was 9th. If he clogged up an equal percentage of possessions while on the floor then Kawhi’s offensive output would be essentially equal–meaning you’re penalizing him for playing on a team and rewarding LeBron and Durant for hero ball (which by the way doesn’t lead to championships). I’m not saying Kawhi is better than either of them, but that he is their equal and based on this year’s production deserves all the accolades he is getting, including likely being 1st team All-NBA over Durant (remember, basketball is a two way sport and defense is just as important as offense).

  4. Tracy

    April 22, 2016 at 2:00 am

    Durant is a top 5 player in the league and has another top 5 player on his team in Russell Westbrook, and solid role players that they don’t even use in serge ibaka, kanter, Adams, and play Anthony morrow more he will space the floor. they give up leads in 4th quarters mainly because Westbrook and durrant try to play hero basketball, both overrated, low basketball iq the both off them, and lebrons did struggle against kawhi actually look at who he scored on and when he scored, a lot of his points came when Spurs already had a massive lead. how can you call a 24 year old nba champion , who’s the best defender in the nba, scores well with great percentages, and who doesn’t hog it overrated, you can’t just say durrant and LeBron score more, I’ll give you LeBron is the better than Leonard, I think LeBron in still the best player in the nba, but durrant and kawhi are on the same page, yeah durrant scores and gets more assists but he does have to ball in his hands a lot more, and it’s not like his lead team to a championship, with Westbrook who is a top 5 player.

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