LeBron James has been dominating the league for over a decade now. At least for the past 10 years, he has been the undisputed best player in the league and it really hasn’t been close. Nothing is more telling of this fact than LeBron’s 8 straight NBA Final appearances and 3 championship rings; including his knocking off of a 73-win Golden State Warriors squad.
But this past season, we finally witnessed a change at the helm. Thanks to a dominant season by Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James can no longer be deemed as the best player on the planet.
Kawhi Leonard managed to pull off one of the biggest surprises in recent memory, by winning a chip with a Toronto Raptors team that had underachieved in the playoffs seemingly every year. With basically a direct swap with DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors became a legitimate threat to the Golden State Warriors. With a solid cast behind him, Kawhi Leonard was able to grab a chip for the first time in Toronto’s history in his very first season. He put in dominating performances throughout the playoffs, en route to his very deserving second Finals MVP Award.
Thanks to his dominating performance on both ends of the court, he put to rest all the hate he received for seemingly “quitting” on the San Antonio Spurs by taking extended injury time off the court. He returned with a vengeance, with spectacular play when his team needed him most. LeBron, on the other hand, had to endure a disastrous first season with a Lakers team that was hampered with poor performances and trade rumors all season long. We even saw glimpses of LeBron’s age as his explosiveness seemed to waver while he took plays off on defense.
Without further ado, here are the top three reasons why Kawhi has finally surpassed LeBron James as the best player in the league.
There is no denying that at this point, Kawhi Leonard is a better defender than LeBron James. As a matter of fact, Kawhi might be the best defender in the league. He is quick, strong, agile, and has those monstrous hands that make him a nightmare on defense. Kawhi can lock-down almost any player in the league on a nightly basis, and is a menace playing the passing lanes and poking the ball away from ball handlers. Playing next to Paul George and Patrick Beverley will make him even more deadly, as he can afford to gamble on steals and be even more aggressive on D. Yikes.
LeBron James, on the other hand, is not as agile as he used to be and played quite possibly the worst defense we have seen from a top-10 player of all-time last season (Kyle Kuzma push anyone?). Though not all his fault, considering his mileage from countless playoff appearances and his workload on offense, James will not be able to replicate his All-NBA Defense we have seen from the past.
While we will most likely see a more focused James on defense in comparison to last season, he is simply not on Kawhi’s level defensively.
Last Season Accomplishments
What Kawhi accomplished last season was legendary. He was traded across conferences to a rather underperforming team in the East, and all eyes were on him to see how he would respond after his injury. And boy did he deliver, in the biggest way possible. Many people placed a target on his back after the Spurs injury saga, and he took most of the blame. After all, how could Kawhi turn his back on a storied franchise with arguably one of the best coaches in the history of basketball?
But Kawhi responded and delivered in the biggest of moments. He was the driving force of the team that was second-best in the East in the regular season, and then took down the best teams in the playoffs. After the Magic, he took out the Sixers with one of the most clutch (even if you swear it’s lucky) shots you will ever see in a do-or-die Game 7. He then led the charge against the Milwaukee Bucks with the regular season MVP and a team full of length, athleticism, and great coaching. To top it all off, Kawhi was the Finals MVP in a series that provided the end of the Warriors Dynasty that has been running riot over the league in the past 4 years.
Meanwhile, LeBron failed to make any impact as part of a very dysfunctional Lakers team. His numbers, as usual, looked splendid when he did play. But the Lakers were rotting as the season progressed, and LeBron could not steer the sinking ship at any point during the season. The Lakers, in the simplest of terms, were a complete disaster. As great as LeBron looked at moments during the season, he simply did not consistently perform at the level that was required for the Lakers to make the playoffs.
Kawhi was consistently the best player on the floor during the entire playoffs, and was easily the most valuable player for his team. Out of respect for the game and his most recent performances, Kawhi should be deemed as the best player on the planet by surpassing LeBron James.
Age and Attrition
Finally, Kawhi is younger and in his prime; and that just might be the final reason it puts him on top of the NBA universe.
After all, James has a historical amount of mileage on his body. LeBron has been through so many wars and battles, that it is impossible to keep up the level of play as top dog in the league. As such, LeBron James will finally show some age this season. He will miss quite a few games (approximately 15 games), and will no longer be the lock-down defender he used to be in his prime.
At the same time, LeBron will take a step back offensively and let Anthony Davis dominate the scoring charts. Even though LeBron is saving himself for the playoffs, he will simply not perform as well as Leonard will. Leonard will most likely replicate his MVP performance last season, and lead the Clippers to a 1 or 2 seed in the West. He is younger, in his absolute prime, and is fresh off a historic championship season with the Toronto Raptors. LeBron is simply too beat down to be the best player on the planet, as will most likely have to take a step back to Leonard.
LeBron will still be a top 5-player (most probably top two), but Kawhi has edged his way to the top leading into the 2019-2020 NBA Season.