The first thing I want to say is that Kawhi would obviously never ask me to write this. There’s no ego about him — seriously, none. And I can tell you, right now, with all of the confidence in the world: There is a 0 percent chance that he is paying attention to anything anyone is saying about the 2017 MVP race.
Luckily for me, this means that I can pretty much scribble down whatever I want here in support of him — without ever having to worry about Kawhi finding out.
And so if it’s alright with you….
I’d like to talk about sandwiches.
When it comes to sandwiches, the bread is crucial.
And that’s why Kawhi Leonard is the MVP.
O.K., sorry — I’m actually being told that this theory makes a lot more sense in my head than it does to other people.
So let me explain.
The MVP race is like a sandwich.
(Hang on, stay with me here.)
Let’s use roast beef as an example, since I grew up in New England. You’re making a roast beef sandwich. You have all the gourmet fixings. You’ve got your house-roasted beef, sliced thin and rare … so tender it melts in your mouth on contact. You’ve got your high-end cheese, produced on a small-batch, organic farm in Vermont. You’ve got your chopped lettuce and your vine-ripe tomatoes, hand-selected from the local farmer’s market. You’ve got your pickles, probably from some hipster shop in Brooklyn but I’ll allow it. And you’ve even got your good old Hellman’s mayonnaise — because there’s no substitute for a classic.
You’re probably getting hungry as you’re reading this, and maybe you’re even thinking about making a sandwich of your own. And that’s smart. Your head’s in the right place. Those ingredients sound really good. The fixings are crucial — and you can’t have your best possible sandwich without them.
But they’re not your whole sandwich.
When I think of the MVP candidates this season, the fixings represent the offensive side of the ball. Let’s say the roast beef and the cheese are points, the veggies are assists, and the mayo is rebounds (you can never have enough rebounds).
Russell Westbrook and James Harden have all the fixings. They are incredible players who are having historic seasons. Both are dominant scorers. And both are putting up insane offensive numbers. It’s been exciting to watch.
But here’s the thing that I think people tend to forget: Kawhi’s got all the fixings, too.
For starters, Kawhi is averaging 25.7 points per game … for the Spurs.
Now, as someone who played for Coach Pop for the last 10 years … let me put that into a little perspective. The Spurs’ system is predicated on one of Pop’s favorite sayings: “Good to great.” Translation: Always pass up a merely good shot, or a merely good play, for a great one. Basically — move the ball, make the extra pass, and be unselfish.
And since there’s so little ball domination in that system … it makes it pretty impossible for any one player to put up a huge scoring average. Even Tim Duncan — arguably the greatest power forward to ever play the game — never had a season in which he averaged 25.7. And that’s really all you need to know. To me, 25.7 points per game in the Spurs system … that’s like 30 plus on almost any other team.
And that’s part of what makes Kawhi’s offensive output this year so remarkable.
But even that’s only part of it. Kawhi is also top 20 in the league in true shooting percentage. And he’s hitting a clean 38% of his threes — which, as long as I’m making the argument … happens to be better than both Harden and Westbrook. And he’s somehow managed to put up almost six rebounds and four assists per game on top of that. Sure, those other guys might have Kawhi beat pretty handily on assists … but keep in mind that they also have about three times as many turnovers.
Basically, I think we can agree that all of the MVP candidates this year have the offensive side of the ball — your fresh, mouthwatering, gourmet fixings — covered.
But then here’s where it gets interesting.
I’ve eaten many, many, many, many, many sandwiches in my life. (That wasn’t the interesting part.) And I can tell you, with the utmost certainty, that the most important part of the entire sandwich … happens to be the only part of the sandwich that we’ve yet to discuss: the bread! Yep, that’s right. We still need that beautiful, flaky, freshly toasted roll on which to put our meat and toppings. We still need our bread.
We still need our defense.
As any sandwich lover knows, a great sandwich lives or dies by its bread. And as any NBA fan knows, defense wins championships.
And Kawhi is the best defender in the NBA.
This year, to be honest, it’s not even really that close. Kawhi has it all. He’s got the physical attributes — long arms, big hands, strength and quickness. He’s got the mental attributes — an off-the-charts basketball IQ, a next-level understanding of angles, the best sense of anticipation I’ve ever seen. He’s got the work ethic — the drive to absolutely work his butt off, night in and night out, to lock down his man. And he’s got the clutch gene — he quite literally wins games in the fourth quarter on the defensive end.
In other words, there’s a reason he’s the reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
And food metaphors aside (just kidding, I’ll get back to them in a second), I guess it really is that simple for me: Kawhi is the only MVP candidate who consistently makes an MVP-level impact on both ends of the court. He puts up elite offensive numbers … all while guarding the opposing team’s best scorer. He’s the guy we want to take the big late-game shot … and the guy we ask to make the big late-game stop. He’s having a truly great individual season … and he’s doing it on a 60-plus win team.
No other MVP candidate can say any of that.
Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard … they’ve been bringing great fixings to the table all year long. It’s been amazing to watch. But only one of them has also been bringing the top-notch bread.
Which is why Kawhi Leonard is the MVP.
And why I’m ordering Kawhi’s roast beef sandwich every time.