Three days into the new NBA season might be a bit soon to start handing out MVP candidacy ribbons, but one player has been better than everyone else: Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs.
The two-time defensive player of the year averaged 32.5 points in 33.5 minutes through the first two games (both wins) of the season, including going 22-for-22 from the line and picking up 10 steals overall. He’s playing with aggressiveness and force that seemed to be missing in the playoff series against the Thunder five months ago. The absence of leadership and Tim Duncan? They don’t seem to exist or bother anyone. Leonard isn’t your classic alpha player in terms of the personality and the emotions he lets float out there (or doesn’t let). But he plays like he’s the best player in the league. Who knows, maybe he is.
In both wins, over the Warriors and the Kings, Leonard had these moments in which he seemed like a bully in the playground who is fed up with the little kids having fun, and decided to teach them a less. He did it to Stephen Curry with an easy half court steal followed with a dunk, and he did it on back-to-back possessions against Ben McLemore in the win over the Kings two days later. He attacks the basket with power he has never displayed consistently. Without showing it on his face, Leonard suddenly walks and plays like he knows he’s the best player on the court all the time.
It’s an interesting path Leonard is walking on. He was the Finals MVP way before he became a complete player and one of the best in the NBA not just in his position, but overall. Usually, a player comes into the league, improves until he becomes a superstar (some quicker than others) and then he peaks with a performance that leads a team to a championship. Leonard stood out in a dominant finals appearance but without doing something too exceptional. Since then, however, he’s kept adding to his game, becoming the best perimeter defender in the NBA and maybe, without too many people noticing, the best player in the NBA as well.