Kawhi Leonard: The King of 2019
While the 2010s may forever be remembered as the decade LeBron James took over the NBA, nobody ended the decade better than Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors
Over the past few days, Sports Illustrated has released its top players of every NBA season. The 2010s start with six straight seasons dominated by James, followed by Steph Curry's 2015-16 season, Kevin Durant's 2016-17 season, another James year, and then Leonard makes his debut in his lone season in Toronto.
"Leonard load managed his way to just 60 regular-season games last season, keeping him off the Best Player Alive radar as Antetokounmpo and Harden jockeyed for the MVP. But by the end of the 2019 playoffs, there was little debating Leonard as the league’s top player," SI's Michael Shapiro writes. "Kawhi averaged 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in the postseason, and he demolished Philadelphia with four 35-plus point performances in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Leonard hit his famous game-winner in Game 7 to beat the Sixers, and he then dispatched Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in the East finals. The Warriors dynasty ended at the hands of Leonard one round later, giving Kawhi his second Finals MVP in six years. He left the Raptors a month later, but Toronto fans will remain indebted to Leonard for years to come."
Leonard beat out Antetokounmpo and Harden for the top spot thanks largely to the incredible run he led Toronto on. His playoffs were the sixth most impressive playoff run in NBA history, according to Basketball-Reference's Win Shares. He scored a total of 732 points, trailing only Michael Jordan's 1992 playoffs and James' 2018 playoffs for the most all-time. Compare that to Harden whose Rockets fell in the Western Conference semifinals and Antetokounmpo, who fell at the hands of Leonard, it was really no contest for the top spot in 2019