Sports Illustrated has wrapped up their list of the Top 100 NBA Players of 2016 and Kawhi Leonard has clocked in at #10, moving up 18 spots from last year's rankings. He's the highest ranked Spur on the list, ahead of Tony Parker (54), Danny Green (50), LaMarcus Aldridge (12), and Tim Duncan (11).
Kawhi's inclusion at the top of the list should come as no surprise. Though the first few months of the 2014-2015 season were marred by freakish eye and hand injuries, the Klaw made quite a bit of noise after he returned to the Spurs lineup in January. He went on an absolute tear that earned him a Defensive Player of the Year and a proclamation from Tony Parker that the Spurs were his team now.
"The inclusion of Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard in the top 10 might strike some as overly generous, especially because it comes at the expense of more established names, including two of his teammates...Yes, there is some projecting happening here. That should be the least surprising admission of all time. Leonard has a Finals MVP award, a championship, a Defensive Player of the Year award and a five-year, $90 million maximum contract to his name at the ripe old age of 24. He's steadily improved his scoring, rebounding and assist numbers in each of his four seasons. Last year, he averaged just 31.8 minutes a game; at the same age, LeBron James was logging 40.4 minutes, while Kevin Durant was playing 38.6. Betting on Leonard's future improvement requires zero risk and concluding that he's more valuable than his per-game stats requires minimal brainpower."
How important has Kawhi's "steady improvement" been? If we aren't discussing the possibility that he is one of the league's top players right now, then there's a fair chance LaMarcus Aldridge wouldn't have decided to take his talents to the Alamo City. Once Pop finally let Kawhi off the leash, there were enough flashes of brilliance to convince the world (and perhaps one incredibly talented power forward in Portland) that Leonard was going to be a star for years to come.
A frightening proposition for the rest of the NBA is that at the green age of 24, Kawhi won't be in his prime for years yet. It's an exciting thought for the San Antonio faithful, but for now we'll focus on the fact that this season the Spurs are set to have three of the league's best players suiting up for them on a nightly basis.