PHILADELPHIA – Kawhi Leonard has been the NBA Finals MVP, won Defensive Player of the Year, made three All-Star teams, played in two Finals, and hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy once. It’d be forgivable to think, as with most guys who played on the Spurs as long as he did, that Leonard was somewhere in his 30s. Or due to his demeanor was birthed on a planet where time stops, irony as a concept does not exist, and stoicism is celebrated as the highest honor.
Kawhi Leonard turns 28 at the end of June.
After the career he’s had, capped by that notorious quad injury and the introduction to Uncle Dennis that eventually led to his being traded to the Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jacob Poeltl, and a protected first-rounder, it’s an important reminder to repeat that age while watching Leonard dismantle the long and swarming Sixers defense.
This version of Kawhi Leonard has been lying in wait, and some team – any team – who traded for him could potentially be getting the culmination of all that experience coupled with health and a true superstar entering his prime. And yet, only Toronto and Masai Ujiri made that big bet. Yes, there’s the risk he’ll bounce in free agency, looming as it has for close to a full year. But outside of that risk is the simple fact that the Raptors have Leonard, and Kawhi is taking wildfire to Toronto’s postseason struggle narratives.
Through four games against Philadelphia, Leonard is averaging a staggering 38 points per game. He’s doing so on 62 percent shooting. To put into context just how insane those numbers truly are, consider this tweet:
Now read that again; Leonard – who has already won Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year – is just now starting to play the best basketball of his career, and that basketball gives him a unique position to affect the game his way unlike anyone else in the league.
“The stuff that he can get off,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of Kawhi after his team’s 101-96 loss to the Raptors, “and we had two people out there — the stuff that he can do to create his own shot is Kobe-like for me. He’s just so gifted in relation to doing that.”