June 17, 2019

Kawhi Leonard and every playoffs MVP



Kawhi Leonard has been called a cyborg, because of his supernatural two-way excellent and mechanical laugh. Except he’s not. Leonard is a dynasty-stopping, two-time NBA Finals MVP cyborg with the highest winning percentage in NBA history.

Leonard four-bounced a game-winning shot in Game 7 of the Eastern conference semifinals, guarded the freakish Giannis Antetokounmpo in the conference finals and snuffed out a possible three-peat by the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals on Thursday night, leading the Toronto Raptors to their first championship in franchise history.

Just a couple weeks short of his 28th birthday, there is a mythical aura surrounding Leonard. He scores and stops his opponents from scoring in a Michael Jordan kind of way, only with none of the panache. He is both guarded and unguardable, an immortal warrior from another century, winning championships past and present in a Highlander kind of way. He is the third player to win a Finals MVP award with two different teams, the first to do it in both conferences, the first in two countries. There can be only one.



While the “best player” debate was an Antetokounmpo vs. James Harden matchup during the regular season and Kevin Durant’s reputation seemed to grow the more he didn’t play, the more the talking heads talked about his impending free agency, the unanimity now rests with Leonard, the Bill Russell trophy in his large alien hands.

But Leonard wasn’t just the Finals MVP. He was also the “playoffs MVP,” which sounds less prestigious but includes a larger sample size — excellence over one-fourth of a season instead of four to seven games. It is also a worthy placeholder in the “best player” debate. (Leonard played 24 postseason games or about the same number that he missed during the regular season. That strategic rest, coupled with playoff injuries to Golden State’s Durant and Klay Thompson, makes a strong case for “load management.”)

Leonard was first in playoff win shares — a quick way of determining the “playoffs MVP” — with 4.9, easily ahead of second-place Stephen Curry (3.3). That’s the sixth-best total of all time, behind Tim Duncan (2003), Dirk Nowitzki (2006, when he lost in the Finals) and three playoff runs by LeBron James. Using win shares as a guide, this postseason’s All-Star team would be Leonard, Curry, Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (3.0) and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry (2.8) and Pascal Siakam (2.4).
— Kevin Brewer



Here are the playoff win shares leaders since 1969, when the NBA Finals MVP award began. The winners are in bold, with my “playoffs MVP” selections highlighted — when they differ from the official selections:

1969 | Jerry West, 4.3

1970 | Jerry West, 3.2; Walt Frazier, 2.8; Willis Reed, 2.6

1971 | Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 3.3

1972 | Walt Frazier, 3.3; Wilt Chamberlain, 3.0

1973 | Walt Frazier, 3.0; Wilt Chamberlain, 2.7; Willis Reed, 1.0 (14th)

1974 | Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 4.7; John Havlicek, 3.5

1975 | Rick Barry, 3.1

1976 | Dave Cowens, 2.7; Paul Silas, 2.3; Jo Jo White, 2.1

1977 | Julius Erving, 3.4; Bill Walton, 2.5 (fifth)

1978 | Elvin Hayes, 3.1; Wes Unseld, 2.0 (fifth)

1979 | Gus Williams, 2.7; Bob Dandridge, 2.5; Dennis Johnson, 2.2 (fourth)

1969-1979 | Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 17.8

2. Walt Frazier, 15.8
3. Wes Unseld, 12.6
4. John Havlicek, 12.3
5. Wilt Chamberlain, 12.1

Willis Reed owes Walt Frazier two trophies.



1980 | Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 3.3; Magic Johnson, 2.8

1981 | Moses Malone, 3.5; Larry Bird, 3.1; Cedric Maxwell, 2.5

1982 | Julius Erving, 3.0; Magic Johnson, 2.7

1983 | Moses Malone, 2.8

1984 | Larry Bird, 4.7

1985 | Magic Johnson, 3.0; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 2.5 (fifth)

1986 | Larry Bird, 4.2

1987 | Magic Johnson, 3.7

1988 | Magic Johnson, 4.0; Kevin McHale, 3.3; James Worthy, 2.8 (fifth)

1989 | Michael Jordan, 4.0; Magic Johnson, 2.2; Joe Dumars, 2.2 (fourth)

1980-1989 | Magic Johnson, 27.1

2. Larry Bird, 23.6
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 17.7
4. Kevin McHale, 17.2
5. James Worthy, 13.5

Magic Johnson should have five playoff MVPs. Larry Bird should have three.



1990 | Michael Jordan, 4.0; Isiah Thomas, 3.1

1991 | Michael Jordan, 4.8

1992 | Michael Jordan, 4.1

1993 | Charles Barkley, 4.6; Michael Jordan, 4.4

1994 | Hakeem Olajuwon, 4.3

1995 | Clyde Drexler, 3.0; Shaquille O’Neal, 3.0; Hakeem Olajuwon, 2.8

1996 | Michael Jordan, 4.7

1997 | Michael Jordan, 3.9

1998 | Michael Jordan, 4.8

1999 | Tim Duncan, 3.7

1990-1999 | Michael Jordan, 32.0

2. Scottie Pippen, 20.2
3. Karl Malone, 17.9
4. Horace Grant, 15.9
11. Reggie Miller, 12.0

Michael Jordan was the best player in the playoffs eight times in 10 years.



2000 | Shaquille O’Neal, 4.7

2001 | Kobe Bryant, 3.8; Dikembe Mutombo, 3.8; Shaquille O’Neal, 3.7

2002 | Shaquille O’Neal, 3.8

2003 | Tim Duncan, 5.9

2004 | Shaquille O’Neal, 3.9; Chauncey Billups, 3.7

2005 | Chauncey Billups, 4.6; Manu Ginobili, 4.2; Tim Duncan, 3.5

2006 | Dirk Nowitzki, 5.4; Dwyane Wade, 4.8

2007 | LeBron James, 3.7; Tim Duncan, 3.3; Tony Parker, 1.6 (14th)

2008 | Kevin Garnett, 4.1; Ray Allen, 3.1 (third); Paul Pierce, 3.0 (fourth)

2009 | LeBron James, 4.8; Kobe Bryant, 4.7; Dwight Howard, 4.5

2000-2009 | Tim Duncan, 23.0

2. Kobe Bryant, 21.7
3. Shaquille O’Neal, 21.2
4. Chauncey Billups, 20.3
16. Robert Horry, 9.8

Tony Parker is the worst MVP selection of all time.



2010 | Pau Gasol, 4.3; Kobe Bryant, 3.6

2011 | LeBron James, 3.8; Dwyane Wade, 3.7; Dirk Nowitzki, 3.6

2012 | LeBron James, 5.8; Kevin Durant, 4.0

2013 | LeBron James, 5.2

2014 | LeBron James, 4.3; Tim Duncan, 3.2; Kawhi Leonard, 2.9

2015 | Stephen Curry, 3.9; LeBron James, 3.0; Andre Iguodala, 2.2 (seventh)

2016 | LeBron James, 4.7

2017 | LeBron James, 4.3; Stephen Curry, 3.4; Kevin Durant, 3.1

2018 | LeBron James, 5.2; Kevin Durant, 4.0

2019 | Kawhi Leonard, 4.9

2010-2019 | Tim Duncan, 38.6

2. Kevin Durant, 23.1
3. Kawhi Leonard, 17.6
4. Stephen Curry, 17.1
5. James Harden, 14.4

The constant criticism of Stephen Curry is getting tiresome.

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