LeBron James may not be this year’s Most Valuable Player, but he’s easily the best basketball player in the world. By many standards, Kawhi Leonard is the second-best. His ability to dominate the game on both ends of the floor separates the Spurs’ All-Star into a class of his own.
As does his demeanor, which was on full display when a reporter alerted Leonard that TNT’s studio crew of Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley dubbed him the world’s second-best player.
Leonard’s answer was, well, very Leonard:
“I didn’t hear [them say that], but it doesn’t matter,” Leonard told reporters. “I’m trying to be the best team in the world right now. It’s not about me, it’s about the Spurs. And that’s all I wanna do.”
O’Neal called Leonard the second-best player in the league during halftime of the Spurs’ Game 5 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday. Barkley doubled down on that thought.
“Kids you need to watch Kawhi Leonard and learn from him,” O’Neal said. “This guy right here is a bona fide superstar. A lot of people don’t say it but I’m saying it here right now. Kawhi Leonard is the second-best player in the league.”
“I don’t think it’s a doubt about that,” Barkley responded. “LeBron’s the best player in the world, but that kid right there — offense, defense, he does it all.”
Leonard has been the driving factor all season long for an aging San Antonio team that posted the NBA’s second-best record and landed the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. The All-Star starter averaged 25.5 points per game on 48.5 percent shooting from the field and 38 percent shooting from downtown on a year-long campaign likely to end with third place in MVP voting.
If it’s fathomable, those numbers have improved in the playoffs.
Through five games against the Grizzlies, Leonard is averaging 31.6 points on a remarkable .576 percent clip from the field and 54.2 percent shooting from downtown. He’s also made 47 of his 48 free throw attempts (98 percent). Memphis head coach David Fizdale thinks Leonard’s a robot who doesn’t breathe and bleeds antifreeze and publicly took suggestions on ways to defend him.
That’s how good the Spurs’ forward is.
Leonard’s led the Spurs to a 3-2 series lead over Memphis with a chance to close out in Game 6 in Memphis. But from his comments, nothing would matter more to him than advancing past this round and dancing with the Houston Rockets.