The NBA's annual GM Survey has been released, and Kawhi Leonard's name came up several different times. While Kawhi was considered one of the league's three best small forwards, he was also ranked top-3 in two different defensive categories as well.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was ranked the league's top defensive player, with Rudy Gobert coming in behind him, and Kawhi Leonard and Jrue Holiday tying for third. There was also a category exclusively for perimeter defenders, in which Jrue Holiday came out on top, with Ben Simmons behind him, and Kawhi Leonard tied with Jimmy Butler for third.
The final defensive category that Kawhi appeared in, was based on versatility. Giannis Antetokounmpo was ranked the league's most versatile defender, with Ben Simmons coming in second, LeBron James in third, and Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green tying for fourth.
Some have argued in the past couple years that Kawhi Leonard has declined defensively, and is merely thriving off of the reputation he built as an elite defender in San Antonio. Before his injury in the playoffs, Kawhi was absolutely silencing that narrative.
In the 2021 playoffs, Kawhi Leonard held his opponents to 30.8% from deep, 35.9% from greater than 15-feet, and 45% from the field overall. All of these percentages ranked top-15 in the NBA amongst all players who defended as many shots as he did.
To make these numbers even more impressive, the player Kawhi guarded most in the postseason was Luka Doncic. In the 92 possessions those two matched up, Kawhi held Luka to 42% from the field and 31.6% from deep. Significantly lower than the 49% FG and 41% 3FG that Luka averaged against the Clippers overall. Kawhi was also doing this while pouring in a historically efficient output on offense.
The narrative that Kawhi no longer defends at an elite level is nonsense to all who watch him play, and the stats corroborate that. The NBA's General Managers have now further denounced this idea, ranking Kawhi Leonard as one of the league's best and most versatile defenders.