It’s pretty much settled that LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the two best players in basketball. LeBron is the best, KD is the second best. From there, spots on the top-10 players list are contested. In particular, number 3.
The two players in the contest for the number 3 slot are Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Curry. They’re so close that I had to compare them category-by-category to decide.
This one is simple: Kawhi.
Kawhi has been the best defender in the league for the past few seasons, and has two Defensive Player of the Year awards to his name.
Curry, on the other hand, has to be hidden on defense by teammates Draymond Green and Kevin Durant. In the 2016 Finals, the Cavaliers went out of their way to ensure that Kyrie Irving was in isolation with Curry on offensive sets. It’s quite the opposite with Kawhi. Teams try to avoid him.
Common sense says Curry, but that’s not to say Leonard isn’t a sharpshooter. He connected on 38% of his three-point shots and 53% of his two-point shots in the 2016-17′ season.
That said, Steph Curry has the four top 3-point shooting seasons in NBA history. This one’s easy.
This one’s pretty close. Both players had around the same point per game averages (25.5 vs 25.3) on almost the same amount of shots per game (17.7 vs 18.3).
So what do you do when the standard stats make it too close to call? You go to the advanced stats, of course. True shooting percentage, in this case. Yet true shooting percentage doesn’t differentiate these two, either. Let’s call it a tie.
For as lopsided as the defensive category was for Leonard, the playmaking category is just as lopsided for Curry. Steph has a career average of 7 assists per game. Kawhi Leonard’s career high in assists is 7.
Leonard’s assist averages have been climbing steadily since he came into the league, but a paltry 3.5 assists per game last season isn’t going to cut it, especially in comparison with Curry. Leonard’s career assist average sits at a pitiful 2.3 per game.
Don’t tell me that it’s because of the “Spurs system”, either. Golden State has run a similar man-movement ball-movement system since Steve Kerr took over, and Curry has averaged exactly 7 assists per game in that time frame.
Leonard has a Finals MVP to his name that Curry doesn’t, but overall, Curry has been the better postseason performer. Leonard just became a dominant postseason force last season, a title Curry has held for three years running.
Curry has also developed an undeserved reputation as a Finals “choker”. While he did underwhelm in 2016, he delivered in both 2015 and 2017, Golden State’s two title years. Let’s, for a minute, compare Kawhi’s Finals numbers when he won Finals MVP, to Curry’s, when he didn’t win Finals MVP.
Leonard 2014: 17.8 points per game, 6.4 rebounds per game, 2.0 assists per game.
Curry 2015: 26.0 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game, 6.3 assists per game
Curry 2017: 26.8 points per game, 8.0 rebounds per game, 9.4 assists per game
I think it’s pretty clear that Curry is the better postseason and Finals performer. I’ll cut Kawhi some slack though, as his ankle injury in last year’s Conference Finals cut short would could’ve been a classic battle between him, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry.
Curry wins by a score of 37-32