12 Players – Heroic Labors: Kawhi Leonard

As we inch closer to actual NBA games, the challenge that the players will face in their quest for a championship becomes clearly. Early this week the NBA passed its first test by having every NBA player in the bubble test negative for Covid-19. This has bolstered the hope that the bubble concept will be able to hold off as Covid-19 rages outside of it.

Nobody quite knows what the product will look like – though with inter-squad – scrimmages this week we will get our first peak at an empty NBA game. While it’s foolish to argue that this restart will decide the legacy of an NBA player or organization, it certainly can help to build up one should they go the distance.

Just as Hercules had to overcome 12 challenges or labors in order to prove himself to be worthy, NBA superstars will be taxed in a way they never have before. Superstars will be responsible for carrying their teams on the court like usual but they will also have to keep their groups focused, engaged, and united in their quests for a championship. Here are the biggest challenges that 12 NBA superstars will face as they seek to win the title. Batting second is Mr. Board Man Gets Paid.

Kawhi Leonard ran through the Magic (no stars), Sixers (Simmons + Embiid + Butler), Bucks (MVP Giannis), and Warriors (depleted defending champs) last year on one and half good legs as he led the Toronto Raptors to their first championship. After finally relocating to LA this past off-season, he has made the Clippers a front-runner for the championship. Now in year 9, and only 28 years old, Kawhi has firmly cemented himself as one of the premier two-way talents in the league.

As he begins his quest for a 3rd ring, adding the Orlando Bubble championship to his collection would be a tremendous achievement. Looking back at his previous title seasons it’s clear Kawhi will have quite the legacy regardless of what happens going forward. He led a Spurs team filled with Hall of Famers and defeated an all-time great team led by (possible) GOAT Lebron in 2013-2014. His “coming out party” in the Finals was spectacular and effectively ended Lebron’s tenure in Miami. Last season he carried perennial playoff disappointment Toronto to victory over the probable team of the decade Warriors. Kawhi averaged an outrageous 30/9/4 in the playoffs. Oh and he effectively ended that iteration of the Warriors dynasty as Durant evacuated the West coast for the East coast. He was also voted MVP of both of those title runs by the way.

Now in LA and leading the historically disappointing Clippers, can Kawhi pull another franchise from playoff struggles to first time title earners? He’s never been more rested after having near 4 months off and has as a talented a supporting cast as there is in the league. In Kawhi’s path to bubble glory are two very familiar foes. To emerge from the West he will likely have to overcome a Lebron who’s still in MVP form. Kawhi hasn’t faced off against Lebron in a playoff series since his Spurs bested the Lebron’s Heat half a decade ago. Kawhi rose to the occasion and defended James as well as he’s ever been defended and showcased his emerging offensive powers. Kawhi has improved as an offensive centerpiece since then and in particular this season, averaging a career in assists at 5 a game. For the Clippers to win a possible battle of LA, Kawhi will need to outplay James, just as he did years ago.

The other (likely) obstacle in Kawhi’s path is leading candidate for MVP this season and the MVP from last season. Giannis’s Bucks are the favorite to come out of the East after an historic season, led by the Bucks defense. Giannis is every bit the monster he was last season and then some. His stat line of 30/14/6 is patently absurd. After falling behind 2 games to 0, Kawhi and the Raptors rattled off 4 straight wins and before the Bucks knew what happened their season was over. Kawhi tore through the Raptors to series averages of 30/9/4, while being the lead defender in holding Giannis to only 23 a game.

Over the next 3 months Kawhi will have to lead a roster of players on path they’ve never fully made it all the way down. Kawhi has proven, twice now, that he can take down the all-time greats of his era. To win his 3rd championship, he will likely have to go through 2 very familiar challengers. He’s bested them both as a member of different organizations and will likely have to best them a third time to add to the Board Man’s championship legacy.

Previously…

Lebron James

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