Yesterday, The Ringer released its Top-100 players list, and of course, as with every article of this nature, there were some ranking choices that really make you think.
One of which was the placement of two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who they had ranked 22nd in the association. Their reasoning wasn’t based on his ability, but rather, his availability.
“All-time winner and two-way monster who would easily crack the top 10 of any NBA ranking if his body allowed it,” The Ringer Staff Writer Michael Pina wrote.
And honestly, who could blame them? Coming into last night’s game against the Dallas Mavericks, Leonard had only appeared in 18 of his team’s first 42 games, posting a marginal 17.3 PPG on 55% True Shooting (-2.7 percentage points worse than the league average).
So what did Leonard do? The same thing he did when people counted him out in San Antonio, Toronto, or when this same Mavericks squad came within one game of pulling off a first-round upset: delivered an iconic performance that made everyone eat their words.
In nearly 36 minutes of action, Leonard scored a season-high 33 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and four steals on a pristine 95.5% True Shooting efficiency. This outburst also marked his highest Game Score output of the season (36.8). Coincidentally, the last time his Game Score was that high was in Game 6 of the Los Angeles Clippers’ 2021 first round matchup against the Mavericks.
The part that indicates that this obscure Tuesday night outing could spark a turnaround is that his scoring wasn’t solely predicated on midrange mastery, which has already been excellent all year (91st percentile, per Dunks & Threes).
Instead, he was also getting it done from beyond the arc (3 for 5 on the night) and the free throw line (12 for 12). Two areas that have played a huge role in turning him into one of the league’s most efficient volume scorers (remember, he was a part of one of the greatest scoring seasons in NBA history).
His decision-making and poise were also on full display, as Dallas regularly sent double teams his way any time he caught the ball in the mid-post area. He responded to this treatment in typical Cyborg manner, calmly surveying the layout of the terrain and identifying the best available option, like this:
Hopefully, Tuesday’s masterpiece foreshadows what is to come for Leonard for the remainder of the season. Because if his body allows him to keep stringing together these types of performances, he’ll be a lock for any top-10 list in no time.