Perfect might not be attainable, but few players chase it with the vigor and demonstrable progress as Kawhi Leonard.
The back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year ranked in the 99th percentile in overall offense by Synergy Sports. Read that sentence back again so that it fully sinks in. Yes, Kawhi Leonard made another gigantic leap in 2015–16, elevating his offensive game for the fifth straight season, earning his first All-Star and All-NBA First Team selections, and launching him into the pool of perennial MVP candidates for years to come. The 25-year-old Leonard’s improvement has been maniacal: Last season, he set new career-highs in minutes, points, assists, three-point percentage, Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares, while just barely missing out on joining the vaunted 50/40/90 shooting club. Oh, yeah, he also led all perimeter players in Defensive Real Plus Minus and guided the Spurs to the fourth-stingiest defensive rating of the past decade. And, by the way, even though Tim Duncan was on one leg and headed for retirement, Leonard helped the Spurs win 67 games, four more than their previous franchise best. Honestly, this gushing can go on and on, depending on how carefully you want to read through the valedictorian’s transcript. Leonard averaged more than one point per possession in all of the following offensive scenarios last season: spot up, post-up, transition, using screens, using hand offs, cuts, putbacks, and as both the ball-handler and the roll man in pick-and-rolls. If you can invent a new method for putting the ball in the basket, Leonard will surely master it. Defensively, the drill down renders similarly pristine results. Step back from the situational breakdowns and there are still areas for potential improvement: Leonard can do more as a play-maker for others, and he didn’t exert quite enough authority during San Antonio’s last two postseasons. Odds are, he’s in a gym right now figuring out to take those next steps. While perfection might be an unattainable ideal, few if any players chase it with as much vigor and demonstrable progress as Leonard. (Last year: No. 11)
+ Posted career-highs in Player Efficiency Rating and True Shooting % despite taking on additional offensive responsibilities that spiked his usage rate and shots to career-high levels. In fact, his 61.6 TS% on 25.8% Usage was topped by only two players: Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant
+ Ranked in the top six in Player Efficiency Rating (6th), Win Shares (4th), Real Plus Minus (5th) and 82Games.com’s “Simple Rating” (4th)
– His 2.8 assists per 36 minutes places him well below fellow elite wings like LeBron, Durant and Paul George
– He has missed 10 or more games in each of the last four seasons, although some of his absences were for strategic resting purposes