For those who typically overlook a large portion of the NBA regular season, you may have failed to notice the recent surge in discussions about Kawhi Leonard’s potential for MVP recognition. In most years, Leonard’s statistics are impressive. However, since his emergence as a star during his time in San Antonio, “The Claw” has rarely played enough games to be seriously considered for the league’s most prestigious honor. Nevertheless, this year, many are drawing parallels to the Lamar Jackson argument for Leonard, following the QB’s second MVP award.
Leonard is currently having an exceptional season by any standards, and his newfound presence in the MVP conversation is largely attributed to the Clippers’ strong performance. Leonard excels in certain categories, while in others, he meets the expectations of an NBA superstar. The team’s position in the Western Conference is the main factor, currently sitting in third place, just one game behind the tied leaders, Oklahoma City and Minnesota.
Another surprising aspect of Leonard’s MVP surge is the fact that he has played in 44 out of his team’s 48 games. This season, he is on track to participate in the most games since joining the LA Clippers, accounting for over 90 percent of their matches. This availability may be the most significant difference in his candidacy.
When analyzing Leonard’s case, scoring stands out as the primary factor. He currently averages 24.7 points per game, with shooting percentages of 53 percent from the field, 45 percent from beyond the arc, and 89 percent from the free-throw line. He is on the verge of joining the esteemed 50/40/90 club.
Achieving an increase of one percentage point in his free-throw accuracy, while maintaining the other two shooting percentages, would place Leonard among legendary names such as Larry Bird, Steve Nash, Reggie Miller, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, and Dirk Nowitzki. Mark Price, a former Cavs guard, and Malcolm Brogdon, a current Blazer, are also members of this club, although not in the same tier as the aforementioned players.
However, for Leonard to secure the MVP upset, he will need more than impressive shooting statistics. The MVP award typically revolves around scoring, similar to how the NFL MVP is often determined by the best or most productive quarterback. This is where the comparison to Lamar Jackson becomes relevant.
Jackson is expected to win his second league MVP award, despite not having the most prolific passing statistics among quarterbacks in 2023. He threw 24 touchdowns for over 3,600 yards and only seven interceptions. With a completion rate of over 67 percent (a career-high), a passer rating of 102.7 (second-highest of his career), and a QBR of 64.7, his numbers are remarkable. However, it is Baltimore’s dominance throughout the regular season that will likely secure his victory.
While there is an argument for the Clippers being the most dominant force in the NBA since December, there are still a few months remaining. If they can maintain their current pace, Leonard may receive some MVP votes, but his chances of winning are slim. The only player to win the award while averaging fewer than 26 points per game was Stephen Curry during the 2014-15 season. Curry went on to win back-to-back MVP awards, averaging over 30 points per game the following year.
As they say in a cheesy commercial, “It’s a make-or-miss league.” The essence of the sport is encapsulated in its name, basketball. Scoring points is the ultimate objective. Simply witnessing Leonard on the court every night, rarely missing games, is a treat. Whether you support the Clippers or not, Leonard is undeniably one of the most talented and well-rounded athletes in the NBA. When he is healthy, many still consider him a top-five or top-ten player. Although his current performance may not be enough to astonish everyone and secure his first regular-season MVP, if the Clippers continue on their current trajectory, they will be serious contenders in May and June.