Kawhi Leonard is the NBA’s real MVP


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We NBA fans are underrating Kawhi Leonard, and it’s a shame.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is getting all the attention this season for having the kind of MVP season we’ve been waiting for from the Greek Freak as he leads the Milwaukee Bucks to a two-game lead in the Eastern Conference. James Harden is having an unbelievable offensive season, one for the ages. Paul George has settled into a superstar role for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

And Leonard should be right there with all of them. But when you look around at MVP takes, his name is lower down the list behind some other big names.

Yet the forward has the Toronto Raptors two games behind the Freak’s Bucks. Although he’s not the individual scorer Harden is, he’s every bit as versatile.

And on Wednesday night, Leonard had this reaction to George’s defense before baiting him into reaching for the ball and scoring over him:

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That’s the same face I make when I don’t see Leonard getting the kind of respect he deserves.

There are a myriad of reasons why that continues to happen. Let’s break them down:

1. Sports fans in general underrate defense

Even though the “defense wins championships” cliche continues to be thrown around on a nightly basis and we have metrics to measure how good a defender is, we still have trouble acknowledging a shut-down player like Leonard is as valuable as an unstoppable force like Harden on the other end of the floor.

2. He plays in Canada

That can’t help with American sports fans. When he played with the Spurs, he wasn’t necessarily the first banana on Gregg Popovich’s team-oriented squad. Now, even with League Pass and some national games, we need social media to see him do this:

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And this:

And that:

3. He’s not a visible off-the-court star who barely smiles

Social media is not his thing. He became a meme for laughing in front of cameras. The angle of his New Balance endorsement is that he’s all about basketball and not about any of that other stuff. That doesn’t endear himself to fans who want their star to act like one at all times.

4. He takes games off

I don’t mean figuratively. Literally, he sits for one game in back-to-backs during the season, which is the smart thing to do when teams play 82 times a year plus the playoffs. Yet people will scoff at the fact he’s “only” played 52 games this season. We’ll see if they scoff in the postseason.

So let’s stop underrating Kawhi. He’s as much of an MVP candidate as the rest of the top players and it’s time we accept that.

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