The NBA has released its GM survey for 2021-22 season, and Kawhi Leonard received some top honors. When ranking the league's top small forwards, Kawhi came in at 3rd behind Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
There is no explanation whether or not Kawhi's ACL injury was factored into his ranking, but those top-3 are essentially interchangeable depending on what a team, or in this case a GM, values most. While Durant, LeBron, and Kawhi each provide their teams with elite and well-rounded games, they each stand out in ways that are different from one another.
Kevin Durant is the undisputed best scorer of the trio, while LeBron James is the superior playmaker, and Kawhi Leonard is the best defender. When comparing players of their stature, it often times comes down to preference.
Both Durant and Leonard were on track to have historic playoff runs, and potentially meet in the Finals, before injuries cut their seasons short. For Kawhi, it was obviously he who suffered the ACL tear, but for Durant, it was his two co-stars who went down. Even with Kyrie Irving sidelined and James Harden hobbled, Durant nearly pulled off one of the most heroic performances in NBA history.
In Game 7 against the Milwaukee Bucks, Durant had 48 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists, while coming just inches away from a series-clinching buzzer beater. While his toe was on the line, and the rest is history, Durant absolutely earned his spot as the league's top small forward.
Kawhi Leonard was on a similar trajectory, averaging 30.4 PPG on 57.3% shooting in the playoffs before going down with a season-ending ACL tear. These averages included a heroic performance in Game 6 on the road vs. the Dallas Mavericks. With the Clippers facing elimination, Kawhi Leonard gave his team 45 points on 72% shooting. Kawhi joined Charles Barkley, Dirk Nowitzki, Elvin Hayes, Wilt Chamberlain, and LeBron James as the only players in NBA history to score 45 points on 72% shooting in a playoff game.
For LeBron James, his postseason went a bit differently. After losing Anthony Davis to injury, the Lakers were eliminated in the first round, and LeBron averaged a playoff career-low 23.3 PPG. There is some speculation that James was still hobbled from the injury he sustained earlier in the season, because he certainly did not look like himself.
As previously mentioned, it is essentially splitting hairs when comparing three players as great as Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Kawhi Leonard; however, for now, Kawhi comes in at 3rd.