Kawhi Leonard Has a Chance to Win MVP With the Toronto Raptors

Kawhi Leonard possesses the skills required to be an MVP.

Kawhi Leonard along with Danny Green are headed to Toronto after the Raptors traded DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a protected first-round pick. No matter how much you love DeRozan he was never going to be an MVP caliber player. That doesn’t take away from him being a four-time All-Star or a two-time All-NBA player. DeMar DeRozan earned all those achievements. So even though DeRozan may be great he’s not elite like Kawhi Leonard has been over the course of his career.

What does it take to win MVP?

1) A Great Team

It’s pretty hard to win MVP unless you are on a great team. The Raptors won 59 games last year, so they definitely check this box.

2) Making Your Teammates Better

This was something DeRozan got criticized for over much of his career. He wasn’t always in the Raptors best lineups per the analytics. Moving away from isolations and passing more made DeRozan more team friendly this season, but probably still a little short of where you would want him to be in a perfect world. Kawhi, on the other hand, is a beast. Even on “off nights”, he attracts so much defensive attention it opens up great looks for his teammates. Kawhi Leonard checks this box.

3) Traditional Stats

If you don’t have good looking box score stats you probably have no chance at winning MVP. Russell Westbrook won MVP two years ago for stat-padding a triple-double. Stats matter because people generally don’t just rank players purely based on the “eye-test.” Kawhi Leonard is a super efficient shooter and high-volume scorer that finished 3rd in the MVP voting the year Westbrook won. If Kawhi is healthy you better believe he’ll put up numbers that put him in the MVP race.

4) Advanced Stats

You might love or hate advanced stats, but the advanced stats community isn’t going anywhere. DeRozan never faired well in this category because of his lack of defense and shooting from deep. But guess who the advanced stats love? Kawhi Leonard. What advanced stat do you like? VORP? In Kawhi Leonard’s last two healthy seasons his value over replacement player was 6.2. In 2016-17 Kawhi was tied for 6th in this stat with Stephen Curry. The previous year Steph lead the league in VORP. So, you don’t like VORP. How about win shares per 48 minutes? In 2016-17 Kawhi was tied for 2nd in this category with Chris Paul only ranking behind Kevin Durant. And the previous year he held the two spot all to himself only ranking behind Steph Curry. I’m beginning to think Steph Curry might be good at basketball.

“You love Kawhi Leonard’s shooting, but he’s not among the best in the league in true shooting or effective field goal percentage.”

These stats tend to skew heavily in favor of big men that take a lot of their shots from the restricted area. The closer you get to the hoop the easier it should be to make that shot. Kawhi still ranks pretty well in these categories for a wing player. In 2016-17 his true shooting was 61% which is nothing to scoff at. For effective field goal percentage, he ranked pretty well in 2015-16 with 56.5% (above LeBron James). It really doesn’t matter what advanced stat you pick because Kawhi Leonard is probably going to rate well.

5) Star Power

Kawhi Leonard isn’t flashy and is very quiet. If you asked a non-basketball fan who Kawhi Leonard was they might not know. This might also be why he’s only been an All-Star twice in his career despite being a Finals MVP. This is the box that might not get checked for Kawhi.

Kawhi Leonard is one of the best two-way wing players in the league if not the best. Kawhi has no discernible flaws to his game. He’s been Defensive Player of the Year twice. He’s made All-Defensive First Team three times. He’s made All-NBA First Team twice. Kawhi Leonard is an NBA Champion and Finals MVP. Kawhi has done it on the biggest stage. At his best, the only player that you can definitively put in front of him currently in the NBA is LeBron James. As a member of the Toronto Raptors, Kawhi Leonard will have a legitimate shot to win MVP.

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