Two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard has only played in two of the Los Angeles Clippers’ 11 games this season as he deals with his troublesome right knee. Leonard missed all of last season recovering from an ACL tear in that same knee. Questions about his long term viability in the league have been brought up, leaving many to wonder just how good Leonard is and how does he stack up historically among the greats of his era?
Leonard was drafted 15th overall in 2011 by the San Antonio Spurs. In 11 seasons on the floor, Leonard has been a seven-time All-Defensive selection, five-time All-NBA, five-time All-Star, two-time DPOY, and won two titles to go with those two Finals MVPs.
Do you know how many players in NBA history have won at least two titles, been All-NBA at least five times, All-Defense at least five times, and an All-Star at least five times?
Wilt Chamberlain, Walt Frazier, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, and Leonard.
That’s a who’s who of NBA royalty. Say what you want about the length of Leonard’s career, at worst case he’s a Pro Basketball Hall of Famer.
He is the best player from that 2011 draft class, which includes Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson. If you say Leonard is part of the LeBron era, then he is right there with Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry in terms of the greats in the era.
Since 2014 Leonard has been top 10 in EPM in every season he’s played. EPM measures your effectiveness on your team’s play relative to the competition when you are on the floor. He ranked in the 95th percentile or higher in EPM during that time period, often in the 98th or 99th percentiles.
At his peak Leonard was arguably the best two-way player in the entire NBA. He was the best player in two NBA Finals and had outstanding playoff runs in 2019 and 2020.
He likely won’t have 20,000 points, 5,000 rebounds or 3,000 assists at the end of his career which are sort of benchmarks that people note for longevity. The injuries have taken their toll and caused him to miss a lot of time.
So when you discuss best careers, Leonard would be hard pressed to make the top 10, because he hasn’t played long enough. But when you’re talking best peaks, you see the company he’s in.
Leonard missed the 2021-22 season, he played 60 games in 2018-19 with the Toronto Raptors, and only nine games with the San Antonio Spurs in 2017-18.
We all would like to “turn injuries off” when it comes to sports and athletes, but it’s an unfortunate part of the game.
There is still optimism in Los Angeles that Leonard will play more games than less this season.
“He is progressing well,” head coach Tyronn Lue said of Leonard last weekend. “We knew coming off an ACL, it wasn’t going to be a straight line. We talked about it before the season. The biggest thing is he’s progressing well. We are going to follow the lead of our medical staff. We got to be smart about the situation, but he is progressing.”
That’s encouraging. A healthy Leonard means the Clippers are a title contender, and if he somehow is able to lead his third team to a title, his legacy and place in history will be unassailable.