Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is ranked as the 28th best player in the league, according to Sports Illustrated's Top 100 NBA Players list heading into the 2014-15 season.
At this time last year, Leonard was ranked 37th by SI after his breakout performance in the 2013 NBA Finals, despite going home without the Larry O'Brien trophy. After returning to Miami to help the Spurs take the title, he's gained more recognition as an up-and-coming force in the league.
Leonard averaged 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds this past regular season -- not the most impressive numbers on a stat sheet. However, he did have his most efficient shooting year with 52.2% on field goals. And he only got better as the year went on. His overall playoff numbers increased to 14.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, and his Finals numbers were 17.8 points and 6.4 rebounds over five games when the first two were plagued with foul trouble.
As Michael Erler explains here, how does anyone step up like Kawhi Leonard does? Of course, everyone is expected to kick the effort up a notch in the playoffs, but Leonard by far and away has his best performances in the playoffs, particularly the Finals. Setting a career scoring high, scoring 20-plus points three consecutive games, being a big part of one of the most efficient games in NBA history (Game 3), all while matched up against the world's best player in LeBron James. That's Kawhi Leonard for you.
Leonard is slowly growing into one of the best all-around players in the league, and the most exciting part is that no one can tell when he'll peak. He's a monster perimeter defender already and he continues to spread his wings on offense. Every single year in his short career so far, he's raised his effort and improved his skills, and it's easy to see him continue that trend for quite some time.
With that in mind, how far do you think Leonard will rise on this list in the coming years? It's tough to gauge a specific range, which makes his career all the more interesting to monitor.