"I think the challenge with Kawhi is it doesn't look the same… it's not as pretty. But, boy, is it effective. So where a lot of those guys that I just named are like natural God-given scorers, Kawhi isn't that. Kawhi didn't come into this league as a scorer, yet he's one of the best scorers we have in the league now."
Ahead of the 2019 NBA Finals, Golden State Warriors forward and 2017 Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green was asked about the unique challenges that come with guarding Kawhi Leonard, to which he provided the above answer.
While the views on the aesthetic of his offensive game are objective, Green is certainly onto something when talking about Leonard's emergence as one of the league's best scorers.
Kawhi's run in the 2019 postseason hasn't just put him atop the list of Raptors in the postseason or among the best in the league right now, either. Through a larger lens, Leonard has orchestrated one of the most impressive postseasons in NBA history.
With the Raptors holding a 3-1 series lead over the defending champs as they enter Game 5 of the Finals, Leonard is just 16 points away from becoming just the sixth player in league history to score 700 points in a single postseason, doing it efficiently and effectively from all three levels. Toronto's All-NBA forward is shooting 49.8% from the field, 39.1% from beyond the arc and 89.0% from the free throw line while getting there over nine times per game.
When looking at the numbers, Leonard has a more than realistic shot of entering the top five in Game 5, provided he scores 23 or more points. Should he put forth a performance similar to his multiple 40-point games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Kawhi would enter the top three.
Considering the impact his two uncharacteristic sub-20 point games this postseason had on his total output and, more importantly, the apparent knee ailment he continues to labour through, Kawhi's opportunity to enter such elite company is another one of the more impressive feats this league has seen.
If you let the stoic superstar tell it, he's just doing what it takes to help his team win games.
"I don't play hero basketball. I'm not playing for fans. I'm just playing to win. I'm not out here trying to break records ..."- ESPN (@espn) June 8, 2019
-Kawhi right after taking the 3-1 lead pic.twitter.com/rqcfo4X15I
Just based on his postseason scoring average, you can almost pencil Leonard in for 31 points before the game even begins, a notion that seems ridiculous within the context of how few players have been able to sustain such production over a long postseason.
Since the NBA adopted the 16-team playoff format in 1984, only four individuals have averaged more than Leonard has during an NBA Finals run (minimum of 15 games).
In addition to his place in all-time history with his scoring averages, Leonard has also tied Kobe Bryant and LeBron James for most 30-point games in a single postseason in the past 10 years with 14, just two shy of Jordan's all-time record of 16.
Players with at least 14 30-point games in a single playoff run:- StatMuse (@statmuse) June 8, 2019
Michael Jordan (2x), Hakeem Olajuwon, Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant (2x), LeBron James and now, Kawhi Leonard#NBAFinals #WeTheNorth
📊 https://t.co/0XSVbQvcDn pic.twitter.com/ZXTKFz9bJW
More impressive is that eight of his 30-point performances have come on the road, good for second all-time behind Bryant (nine, 2009).
Of course, the biggest takeaway from the first 22 games of Leonard's postseason is that he has the Toronto Raptors within one game of winning the first NBA title in franchise history. Regardless of what the numbers say, if Kawhi Leonard is able to lead this team to the mountaintop, the argument can be made that his 2019 playoff run is the best ever.
The Raptors will have their shot to attain basketball immortality in Game 5 as they host the Warriors.
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