The aftermath of the NBA Finals showed the Spurs were a better team than the Miami Heat. San Antonio coasted to a 4-1 series win as Tim Duncan won his fifth title. But Duncan was not the main attraction in the series. Third-year small forward Kawhi Leonard was special in the last three games of the series, averaging 23.7 points per game. He was hitting the midrange jump shot, driving to the rim with authority and was equally impressive on the defensive end. His play led to him being named the youngest NBA Finals MVP since Magic Johnson and many believing that this is his moment to break into the spotlight. But even with all the praise heaped upon Leonard, there was some criticism sent his way as well. Thunder small forward Kevin Durant took it into his own hands to make sure folks knew what he thought about Kawhi. When responding to someone on Twitter saying they would take Leonard over Paul George, Durant went out of his way to give credit to the Spurs’ system for Kawhi’s play in the Finals. Durant also went on to imply that George could what Kawhi did and then some in the Spurs’ system. The timing may have been a little off, but Kevin Durant may have a very valid point.
Despite Kawhi’s excellent play in the Finals, I believe Kevin Durant said what some already know to be true. Based on the series Leonard had against Miami, many think he is the same player we saw all in games 3-5 versus Miami. But those results are far from the Kawhi that we saw during the regular season. He may have come through big in the Finals, but he averaged only 12.8 point per game during the regular season. And he is averaging that despite most teams putting their best perimeter defender on Tony Parker. If he was ready offensively, he would exploit the lesser defender that guards him with regularity. Some also will say that the Spurs system these days does not allow him to step into his own. I disagree with that statement only because Tony Parker has risen to being arguably the best point guard in the NBA based on the same offense that Leonard is in. For him to grow in his game, he must make teams pay for putting a lesser defender on him more consistently. Until then, Paul George is still the better player.
Some soured on Paul George in the second half of the season. His inconsistent play was a sore spot for the Indiana Pacers as they sputtered down the home stretch of the season. But even with his spotty play, George is still a better player than Leonard. Both George and Leonard are excellent defenders, but the difference in these two is definitely the offensive end. George gets the best defender from each and every team on a nightly basis. Even with the best defenders being thrown at him, George still averages 21.7 points per game. And with George, the Pacers took over the top spot in the east during the regular season from the Miami Heat. If you were to place Kawhi in the same offense with the same supporting cast, he would not have the same type of success nor would he be able to just play. The pressure would constantly be on him non-stop to produce. George has handled that erratically at times and great at others. The stoic Leonard may or may not have been able to handle those expectations.
Leonard and George are two of the bright, young swing men in the NBA. And over time, both could potentially be the standard for their position. But as of right now, George definitely has the edge in being the better player, while Kawhi has the edge in championship rings. Overall, it should be good to see both continue to mature and develop as players. People can get mad at Kevin Durant all they want about what he said, but it does not change the fact that at this point in their careers, George is a better player than Leonard.