The premise of this post is one of those which, if I posed it on Twitter, despite being coronated by you all to the tune of dozens and dozens of likes, I would be slaughtered by the masses belonging to other fanbases. I’ve been consuming a ton of content in these past few weeks, from Twitter to podcasts and universally, Kawhi Leonard right now is recognized as the best player in the NBA. After the run he just had in winning the title, I probably have him at #1 too. After all, who else in the league could not only average 30 points per game but also shut down Giannis Antetokounmpo at the other end? And of course, to the victor go the spoils, right? When you win, you get to control the narrative. Kawhi has won big now, twice, winning titles over two dynasties.
But does anyone care much for the details? Kawhi only played in 60 games, with his workload held low to manage his recovering body and keep him fresh for the postseason. James Harden appeared in 78 games, and many of those with guys signed to veteran minimum contracts off the street; there was no load management in saving Houston’s season. Kawhi is considered to have had a legendary performance against the Warriors in averaging 28.5 points per game, 9.8 rebounds, and 4.2 assists. But James Harden averaged 34.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 5.5 assists against those same Warriors. Well, surely Kawhi shot better, right? Wrong. Kawhi shot 43% from the floor and 36% from ‘3’ compared to Harden’s 44% from the floor and 35% from ‘3’. And Kawhi faced a Warriors team that only had Kevin Durant for about a quarter and was missing Klay Thompson for almost two entire games with Thompson severely hobbled in the others. Harden faced the Warriors at full health minus Durant for a little over one game.
Well, Harden fell flat on his face when it mattered, right? Except Kawhi only had 22 points on 7/16 from the floor in eking out that title-clinching victory. Had Pascal Siakam and Fred Vanvleet not made the plays that Rockets role players were unable to make down the stretch, a gimpy Warriors team without even Kevon Looney at full health probably takes Toronto to seven games. Harden would have been murdered in the press the next day for such a performance. Meanwhile, no one remembers Kawhi’s quiet performance in the final game.
Look, none of this is intended as disrespect for that Raptors title. But lets please stop acting like they slayed a dynasty. And I have Kawhi as my #1 player right now, mainly for the defensive impact. I’d be laughed at if I insisted that James Harden was the better player. But its just funny to me how disparate the narratives are regarding the two players I’ve just described. Harden is basically a meme on the internet. A lot of people don’t even have him as one of their top five players. And if you get into the details I’ve just laid out, you’re just making excuses for his failures. It’s just funny to me how these things work.