Every generation has their best player, their greatest star. It went Jordan, who passed the torch to Kobe, who then passed the torch to LeBron. Jordan had the 90s, Kobe had the 2000s, and LeBron has the 2010s. Not discrediting the great players prior to these three, but these are three of the greatest players to play the game over the past 30 years.
LeBron is still dominating the league and still has many good years left in him. It’ll be strange for somebody like me to see LeBron retire since he’s basically been my Michael Jordan growing up. But once LeBron walks away from the court a new star will emerge, but who will this star be?
You have young, but experienced guys like D’Angelo Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Paul George, etc. who have already made an impact in this league at such a young age. Then you have guys just coming into the league who are expected to be huge stars, like Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram. All these guys are ready to grab the brass ring and make this league theirs once LeBron starts to diminish and ultimately retire. But there is one guy that is already there, with his fingertips on that brass ring and waiting for his moment to snatch it: Kawhi Leonard.
Kawhi Leonard is only 25 years old and already has two Defensive Player of the Year awards, an NBA championship, and Finals MVP under his belt. Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Kawhi Leonard are the only three players in NBA history to win a Defensive Player of the Year award and an NBA Finals MVP award. Not bad company if you ask me.
With a height of 6’7″and a wingspan of 7’3″ he makes it impossible for anybody to go past him and can guard any position. His hands being 9.8 inches long also have a lot to do with why he’s such an incredible defender. He can and will steal the ball from you if you try to go by him. He can and will block your shot if you try to shoot over him. He is already credited with being one of the best defenders in the NBA today, and one of the best defenders in recent memory.
But it’s not just his defense that makes him a star. He’s everywhere and can do everything. He makes his team better when he’s on the court. This past season he shot a staggering 44% from three, a 10% increase from his previous season. He’s improved tremendously as a scorer, since being dubbed as a terrible shooter going into the draft. His scoring touch will continue to come to him as he develops, but it’s his effect on the game that sets him apart from everybody else.
Being a part of the Spurs’ franchise and Gregg Popovich’s system certainly helps out as well. Kawhi has gone from the young boy riding the waves of the big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, to being the star of this team and taking charge. He’s done everything asked of him and has exceeded expectations. He’s truly become a dynamic player that nobody saw coming.
Earlier in the year Charles Barkley came out and said Kawhi Leonard is the best player in the NBA. He’s already one of the best and hard to argue with his statement. Besides LeBron and Curry, I think Kawhi is right there. You also have your stars like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but Kawhi Leonard is as good as they come. He’s quietly risen to stardom as the years went on, but now there is no question that a star has been born and he’s ready to make this league his.
So the list goes Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and then Kawhi Leonard? Putting Kawhi on that list may be really far-stretched right now, but if he keeps playing like the star he is, and keeps developing his game, he may go down as one of the greats.