Toronto Raptors: Kawhi Leonard is not an MVP candidate and that’s okay

Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Kawhi Leonard has been a revelation for the Toronto Raptors this season and was an MVP candidate early on. That isn’t the case anymore, and that’s ok.

Kawhi Leonard has been incredible for the Toronto Raptors this season, like, seriously incredible. However, his play as of late has seen him drop out of the MVP conversation, but it’s no big deal.

Having Kawhi Leonard on the team has really projected the Raptors ceiling to a much higher position. The regular season win total might turn out to be almost identical, but the regular season isn’t the goal, the postseason is.

Leonard is averaging 27 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in 50 games so far, and has helped the Raptors to 49 wins this season. Kawhi has had a hand in some of the biggest moments of the season, with recent game-winners against Portland and Brooklyn, among others.

While having a Toronto Raptors player winning the MVP award would be in a stratosphere of its own, this season it isn’t nearly as necessary as it would have been in years gone past.

During the Raptors most successful years, including this very year, the center of the team’s success has always been its strength in numbers. Whether it was sporting one of the best backcourts in the NBA, in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, or the depth that was placed around them, the Raptors have always been able to compete.

But, the stumbling block, ironically, was their lack of real star power. Someone who could challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James, the perceived gatekeepers of the East.

Times have changed now, LeBron has moved out West to L.A. and has come across a stumbling block (or ten) of his own, and the Raptors have added a true MVP candidate in the form of Kawhi Leonard, a Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

Leonard has been a revelation, averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, free throw attempts, and field-goal attempts. When he’s been on the court, Leonard has been a difference maker. When he’s on the court.

That’s the key here. Leonard has (only) featured in 49 out of the Raptors 68 games so far this season, missing a large portion of games this season due to “load management”, and while the decision to rest Leonard in those games is definitely a wise decision, it has hindered his case for the upcoming MVP vote.

The three frontrunners, James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George have each played over 60 games this season. That’s a testament to their durability that all three have played at an elite level all season. Durability is also the best ability, after all.

That, and the fact they’re all playing lights out. All three contenders rank in the top five in Real Plus-Minus, with Paul George leading the way at 7.78 RPM. Kawhi Leonard ranks in the top 40, but his Defensive RPM is surprisingly low, given his reputation as an elite defender.

Leonard is still playing at a very high level and still figures to be a top-10 player in the NBA by most peoples standards, but he is well and truly out of the MVP race, for this year anyway. The Raptors are 14-5 without Kawhi this season, and are still a highly competitive team without him, which also counts against his claim, even if the team is far superior with him in the lineup.

Kawhi Leonard isn’t an MVP candidate, but he doesn’t need to be. This team is good enough to carry him if he has an off night, and it can produce even when he isn’t on the court. There’s a lot of talent on this team, especially in the starting five. A starting five of Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol has the potential to run most five-man units off the floor, even in its early stages of integrating Gasol into the starting line-up.

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The Raptors are as good as they have ever been, in large part thanks to Kawhi Leonard. He’s still a transcendent superstar, but there’s just a lot of factors going against him this year. But honestly, it’s okay.