Kawhi Leonard had one of the most special seasons for an individual player that we have seen in quite a while. After having his trade request granted by the Spurs, he was shipped off to Toronto where the Raptors fired their coach and moved on from their former franchise player.
Kawhi was able to lead his new team to an iconic Finals victory, and cement his legacy as one of the greatest players to ever play his position. Through his dedication, smooth offensive moves, and All-NBA level defense, he proved to the world that he is easily one of the two best players on the planet.
His complete skillset and his dominance on both ends of the court is symbolic to a player that is admired across the sport’s world. Even by his playing style, Kawhi Leonard closely resembles one Michael Jordan.
Here are the ways that Kawhi Leonard plays like Mike.
Kawhi is a man of many physical gifts, including a wide powerful build and tremendous athleticism. What particularly stands out are his enormous hands, as his nickname “The Claw” symbolizes.
Leonard is able to palm the ball with complete ease, which makes it easy for him to initiate an offensive play and maintain ball control. His handling has improved leaps and bounds since his early days with the Spurs, and his massive hands have a lot to do with it.
Leonard’s gigantic mittens also allow him to snag rebounds off the rim, poke the ball from defenders, and be a complete nightmare when he defends ball-handlers. His hands might be the reason why he is so dominating on defense.
Michael Jordan was known for his huge hands, which allowed him to palm the ball in a similar way. He was also very effective at faking opponents while maintaining a tight grip on the ball, and completely play the game at his own pace. Defensively, Jordan might be the greatest at his position and his hands had a lot to do with it- much like Kawhi Leonard.
Both Jordan and Kawhi have won the Defensive Player of the Year Award, an impressive achievement for players who are not bigs. Jordan was as elite as you can get on defense, using his array of physical gifts to stick with opponents 94 feet up and down the floor. Jordan was extremely effective at stealing the ball, and even coming up with blocked shots. He could lock-down almost any player at his position when he was locked in.
Similarly, Kawhi Leonard is one of the greatest at defending his position. He is strong, agile, and very smart on defense. He knows where to be at the right time, and will always stay close to a shooter’s pocket. Leonard is an absolute monster on defense and the way he stifles offensive players is very similar to the way Jordan used to.
One aspect that leaps out in the comparison to Jordan is Kawhi’s calm and focused tempo. You rarely ever saw Michael Jordan out of character, or out of focus. When Jordan was in the game, you always felt that he had everything under control and that it was up to him how the game would end up.
Kawhi Leonard has a similar style of play. On defense, he always does the right thing. On offense, he completely controls the tempo of the game when the ball is in his hands. He knows the best way to score, through the use of a pick or down on the block, and the most efficient way to get points. Leonard is as calm and composed as you can get, and is another reason why he is so deadly in crunch time.
With the game on the line, there was probably never any player better than Michael Jordan. He was also composed and knew what he was doing at all times. Leonard plays a similar way, focusing on the play and performing in the clutch.
Impact on the game
Finally, Kawhi Leonard’s impact on a basketball game is very similar to Michael Jordan’s. While Kawhi is not quite as good as Mike, he closely resembles the impact one player can have on both his team and the opposition. Jordan was so dominating defensively, that he would bask in the challenge of guarding the opposing team’s best guard. On offense, he was so complete. He has a perfect jumper, especially from the post, and could finish at the rim with spectacular athleticism.
Similarly, Leonard is always his team’s best defensive player and can guard 1-4 positions with relative ease. He also has the same impact offensively, with a perfect jump shot that extends to the three-point line. On the block, he has mastered the fadeaway jimper much as Mike has throughout his career. When Jordan and Leonard want to score, they are going to do it.
Overall, Michael Jordan’s elite level defense and his unrelenting offense were well-recognized in NBA history. Jordan always let the world know who the best player on the floor was by completely controlling the game. Kawhi Leonard plays a very similar brand of basketball, with a sharp focus on being the best player on the court on both ends every single night.