The third-youngest Defensive Player of the Year in the history of the NBA has been named, and he is Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs.
Leonard, of course, won NBA Finals MVP honors less than a year ago, last June. He’s also a restricted free agent this summer, and the 23-year-old has built himself more than enough of a resume to prove that he’s worthy of a maximum contract from San Antonio.
Terrifying, amazing, relentless—choose your superlative. The lengthy wingman is a storm of judicial limbs and hyperkinetic full-court coverage who evokes Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen. Runner-up Draymond Green, of the Golden State Warriors, was hardly even upset by who he lost out to.
“Al Gore won the popular vote and didn’t get elected president, so I’m not gonna sit here and kill myself over not winning Defensive Player of the Year. We’ve got a bigger goal. That’s to win a championship,” Green said. “[Leonard is] a great defender. Phenomenal defender. He impacts the defensive end just as good as anybody in the league. So congratulations to him.”
The Spurs and Warriors, of course, could be on the league’s most compelling collision course, fated for a showdown in the Western Conference Finals.
But first Kawhi and Co. need to dispatch the Los Angeles Clippers in their first-round series, which the Spurs tied at 1-1 Wednesday night after an overtime victory in L.A. Game 3 is tonight in Texas, at 9:30 PM ET on ESPN, and could very well decide the momentum in the most interesting initial matchup of this season’s bracket.
Look for Leonard to continue proving his case as the game’s best defender tonight. Against the Clippers, he’s liable to stick Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, or just about anyone else if the situation calls for it—much to Lob City’s chagrin.
— John Wilmes