​Kawhi Leonard Has Been the Playoff MVP So Far

Leonard remains focused on his team's success, but his individual play is MVP caliber.

This year’s MVP race, by most accounts, comes down to four guys: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, LeBron James, and Kawhi Leonard.

While all four guys are considered individually deserving of the honor, the majority of the discourse has been centered on Westbrook and Harden because their seasons were so packed with narrative and statistical lines with little historical precedent.

LeBron, although still arguably the best player in the world, will likely see his case suffer once again from voter fatigue (he’s won the thing four times), while Kawhi’s lack of flash and narrative will likely keep him from standing out above the others in the collective consciousness of pundits, fans, and -- most importantly -- voters.

But make no mistake: Kawhi Leonard had a ridiculous season. And if the voting hadn’t ended before the playoffs began, and instead was done now, he’d probably be the frontrunner because he’s been the best player of those four (and anyone, for that matter) in this postseason to date.

Through five games against the Memphis Grizzlies, Kawhi has averaged 31.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.8 steals per contest, while shooting a downright ridiculous 57.6% from the field, 54.2% from three-point range, and 97.9% from the free throw line.

He currently leads all postseason performers in player efficiency rating (PER) at 37.5, true shooting percentage (weighted twos, threes, and freebies) at 74.4%, offensive rating at 141.5, win shares per 48 minutes at .420, and total win shares at 1.6. It might just be from five total games, but each of those numbers is simply off the charts.

And if advanced metrics aren’t your thing, his impact in this series can be seen in the way that he has tied or set his career-high in playoff scoring three separate times in five games:

His 31.6 points per game in the playoffs is the best of any player for the San Antonio Spurs since George Gervin’s 33.3 in 1980 (over three games), and his 158 total points is the second-most scored through five games, trailing only Gervin’s 176 through five in the 1978 playoffs. As a reminder, the Spurs have employed current and future Hall of Famers like David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili since then and we’re not even mentioning them.

In the Spurs’ nine minutes of clutch time this postseason (five-point difference in score with fewer than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter or overtime), Kawhi has shot 8-for-12 from the field and 4-for-5 from deep, averaging 11.5 points per clutch situation (which leads all postseason performers). The rest of the Spurs have shot a combined 2-for-7 (0-for-3 from deep) for four points in such situations.

All of this from a player who is known for his defense (as a two-time Defensive Player of the Year honoree), and we’re only mentioning that side of the ball in the 10th paragraph.

And it’s Kawhi’s elite ability on both offense and defense that has the TNT crew calling him “the second-best player in the league” (via SB Nation) behind LeBron.

While he may trail Westbrook and Harden in terms of media attention and fall behind James in terms of overall stardom, Kawhi Leonard has been the MVP of these playoffs, hands down.

Of course, in typical Kawhi fashion, he doesn’t care about individual accolades or what you and I think of him:

So, if we’re focusing on the team, the Spurs now have an 88.61% chance of advancing past the Grizzlies and a 17.5% chance of winning the title (second only to the Golden State Warriors at 43.5%), according to our algorithms.

They may not be the squad just yet, but they’re close. And it’s because Kawhi has been the MVP of the playoffs so far, regardless of whether he’ll cop to that or not.