Kawhi Leonard is having a phenomenal 2019 postseason. The Toronto Raptors viewed him as the missing piece to bring them to Eastern Conference supremacy with LeBron James moving to Los Angeles when they brought him in from the San Antonio Spurs.
Leonard has been every bit as good as advertised, and now he’s garnering legitimate NBA Finals MVP talk. He helped the Raptors go up 2-1 in the Finals, and we are going to look at his postseason run and determine whether this will be enough for him to stay in the north.
Second round against the Sixers
The 76ers made two huge in-season trades to make a run at a championship. They acquired Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, and the showdown with the Raptors was one for the ages. Leonard was dominant in the series, averaging nearly 35 points per game.
He put up 41 points in Game 7, and he hit the series-winning buzzer-beating shot over Joel Embiid to send Toronto to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Four straight over the Bucks
After their clash with the Sixers, it was a showdown of the top two seeds in the East. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks sought their first NBA Finals appearance since the mid-1970s, while Toronto hunted for its first NBA Finals berth.
After dropping the first two games, Toronto adopted a unique defense to slow down the league’s potential MVP in Antetokounmpo. Leonard hounded him for the rest of the series while putting up 25-plus points in five of the six games of the series.
Kawhi Leonard exorcised Toronto’s demons while leading the team to its first NBA Finals. It didn’t take him long to earn the “King of the North” nickname in the process.
The NBA Finals
Toronto’s first NBA Finals trip started off well. The Raptors jumped out to a 2-1 lead over the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors. A win in Game 4 could put a stranglehold on the series.
Just like the rest of the 2019 postseason, Kawhi Leonard has been phenomenal, and he could snatch up the NBA Finals MVP award. Through three games he is averaging 29 points, nine rebounds, and just under four assists per game.
He is also 36-of-39 from the charity stripe. Without Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, the Warriors don’t have anyone on the floor who can efficiently defend Leonard, and if neither returns to this series, it could be a quick one for the Raptors.
Why Kawhi Leonard’s 2019 postseason is even more impressive
Hitting the series-clinching buzzer-beater. Spearheading the defensive effort against one of the game’s best players. Leading Toronto onto the big stage for the first time. Continuing his strong play in crunch time. There’s no doubt Kawhi Leonard has been one of the best players in the 2019 postseason.
Leonard’s performances are more impressive when you consider he’s not 100% healthy. Most players deal with some nagging injuries at this point of the season, but Leonard might have more than a lingering ailment.
Teammate Danny Green let it slip that Leonard’s knee isn’t 100% healthy, according to YardBarker. To play as well as he has on a bum knee just makes Kawhi Leonard’s 2019 postseason all the more impressive.
Free agency plans
Kawhi Leonard wants to bring a title to Toronto, but there is a lot of speculation about where he will end up at the end of this season. He’s a free agent, and he can go anywhere he wants.
His hometown Los Angeles Clippers will heavily recruit him to sign with them. Every team will look to offer Leonard a max deal, but if the Raptors win the championship, why would he leave? If they lose, is there a good reason to leave beside the location of the city?
One possible play for Leonard? Head back to Toronto and resign a two-year deal with the Raptors. The reason for a two-year deal is the dollar amount increases for max and supermax deals once a player has 10 years of service in the league. He could make a pretty penny with Toronto and then look for him to cash in with a major contract after the 2020-21 season.