It didn’t take long for the Kawhi Leonard MVP talk to heat up. The Thunder getting blown out on Sunday to put them on a three-game losing streak seems to have cooled off most of the Russell Westbrook MVP support. Plus, the Spurs are absolutely on fire and pulled off a big win against the Rockets on Monday. Kawhi had his fingerprints all over it with 39 points and one of the most MVP-caliber 24 seconds to close this game. Words cannot describe how awesome it was, so if you missed it, just click here. Hey, you might as well just check out the entire Kawhilights from last night while you're at it.
Unless you put a lot of weight into triple-doubles, it’s hard to make a case for Westbrook. As we all know, the volume of possessions he gets is like nothing we’ve ever seen, or even close to it. No player has ever hit a 39 usage rate in a season and Westbrook is at an absurd 42.1 to shatter Kobe Bryant’s previous record of 38.7 usage rate from 2005-06. By the way, the only other players to even hit a 37 usage rate in a season are Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson — DeMarcus Cousins is at 36.9 this season, but he’ll likely trend down on the Pelicans.
Yeah, Westy is leading the NBA in scoring at 31.7 points per game, but just think about possessions he has to use. If you factor in Westbrook’s 44 and-one free throws this year, he’s using 34.7 possessions per game! Almost 35!! So to take true shooting percentage a step further, he’s scoring 0.91 points per possession used per game. That’s not very good. In case you were wondering, Westbrook has 2.9 bad-pass turnovers per game (via NBA Miner), so that’s still 32 possessions if you take those out.
Enter Kawhi Leonard. Since he returned from a one-game absence due to a quad injury, the Spurs have gone 10-1 and Kawhi may have turned in one of the best stretches of any player in a double-digit span this year. In his last 11 games, he averaged 30.5 points, 6.5 boards, 3.9 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.4 blocks, 2.0 treys and just 1.9 turnovers on a 61.0 true shooting percentage in his 35.0 minutes per game.
That is just a crazy difference in efficiency. Factoring Kawhi’s 0.6 and-one attempts per game to this shortened sample, Kawhi is using 27 possessions per game in his last 11 games. That means he’s scoring 1.13 points per possession used, which is a whopping 24 percent better than Westbrook’s usage of possessions.
You would think that someone with that kind of efficiency on using their possessions would have a killer shot chart or something. That’s actually not really the case for Kawhi in those 11 games:
Compared to his season averages, he’s basically on par at the rim, he’s 1.7 percent better on his mid-range shooting, and he’s actually 6.0 percent worse on his 3-point shooting. In other words, he’s not even at peak efficiency and this hot stretch is 0.6 TS% below his previous season average.
The main reason why he’s been so incredible with his used possessions is the low turnovers. In the history of the NBA, no scoring qualifier has ever turned in a 31 usage rate with 1.9 turnovers or fewer. He’s doing that in 35 minutes, and his usage rate would be closer to 40 in that span had he turned the ball over like Westbrook.
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As anyone who plays nine-cat fantasy hoops knows, Kawhi just crushes because he’s so on low turnovers. Leonard is tied for 58th in turnovers per game this year, but he is seventh in points per game. Yeah, assists are obviously a factor on that, but Kawhi is still at a very respectable 3.4 per game. By the way, Kawhi's bad-pass turnovers are at just 0.7 per game and he's only at 0.5 lost-ball turnovers compared to Westbrook's 0.8 -- Harden is at 1.2. Turnovers aren't exactly the most important stat, but something has to be said about how incredible Kawhi is at keeping those down.
One other impressive aspect of Kawhi’s offensive game lately is that everyone knows it’s coming. Here’s a look at his how he performs on contested shots.
He’s not wide open very often at all and he’s facing tight defense 53.6 percent of the time in this span. That’s not exactly DeMar DeRozan’s 74.2 tight defense percentage, but it’s right at LeBron James’ 52.8 tight defense percentage. LeBron is also at 61.5 TS%, so there are a lot of similarities as a scorer there — yes, LeBron is the best passer maybe ever (Nikola Jokic SOON!).
Kawhi may still be slightly behind James Harden for MVP, but his recent play has his on track to pass him within this next month. This is pretty much the case for Dario Saric for Rookie of the Year, too.
For fantasy on Kawhi, we really don’t need to analyze much here. He’s a beast and will be a top-five player for a long time. For DFS, you just fire him up basically every day when the Spurs aren’t favored too heavily. The Spurs are in OKC on Thursday and Golden State comes to San Antonio on Saturday. If Kawhi goes off in those two national games, Kawhi for MVP will probably be a mainstream thought.
One other quick thing: I just wrote about Kawhi as an MVP and didn’t even mention his defense until just now. He’s just not fair.