It’s a weird semester, and a lot of things are different. But one thing that is still the same is the DC Sports Roundtable coming to you on Thursdays. For our first one, we are giving our picks for the best player who is still remaining in the bubble. The key words here are “still remaining” so Luka, Dame and Donovan Mitchell are off the table. But of course we still have the big guns like Kawhi, LeBron or Giannis to choose from, so it should be a good discussion.
It’s clear that Kawhi Leonard is the superstar on a loaded Clippers roster that contains star forward Paul George, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. With averages of 32.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, he really showed up for a Clippers team that needed him with Paul George underperforming in their series against a Dallas Mavericks team with Luka Doncic. The Clippers have counted on him in clutch situations and Leonard has yet to let the team down. It’s safe to say that as the best player on the best team in the bubble, he is the last man that anyone wants to face on the quest for the title.
The best player in the bubble is the one with the greatest leadership skills, positive team impact and ability to manage the largest load and intangibles in big moments. Giannis has never proved he could create his own shot in the playoffs and that is the end of that discussion. The debate becomes tighter between Kawhi and Lebron but the answer is LeBron James. The Lakers have no bench, a lack of playmaking guards and the 22nd-ranked 3-point attack in the league. When LeBron goes to the bench, the Lakers offensive rating falls from 113 to 94.2. LeBron can’t afford to load manage while racking up wins like the deep Clippers who have a loaded starting five and the best bench in basketball. Additionally, when Kawhi does play, nobody can afford to double him because of the other scoring threats on the team. Teams double and zone up on LeBron while Kawhi operates in single coverage frequently. LeBron averages 25.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 10.2 assists a game on 49% shooting in his 17th season with a real plus minus of 9.58 which ranks second in the league while Kawhi ranks seventh. Additionally per 36 minutes, LeBron actually generates more points than Kawhi when factoring assist numbers. Lebron creates 53.2 points in this span in comparison to Kawhi’s 45.3. When we talk about individual greatness, don’t let the fatigue of seeing the King be the best make you a prisoner of the moment and take anyone else first in the bubble.
Kawhi Leonard is the baddest man in all the land. The Dallas Mavericks could not have asked for a better performance from Luka Doncic or a worse performance from Paul George, but behind the Klaw’s 32.8 PPG, 10.2 RPG, brilliant efficiency as a scorer and near-perfect defense, the Clippers dispatched the Mavs in six games. If LeBron James wants to add a fourth NBA Championship to his resume and strengthen his case as the greatest of all time, he better hope that he plays anyone but Kawhi and the Clippers. Because right now Kawhi can score on and shut down any team’s best player, and that’s a scary thing for opposing contenders.
To claim that Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t the best player in the world, let alone the bubble, is crazy. Dismissing Kawhi and LeBron has proven plenty of people wrong too many times, but for me this is simple. The oncourt presence that the Freak possesses is truly elite. His ability to not only impact, but dominate the game on both sides of the ball is unparalleled. Antetokounmpo has single-handedly willed the Bucks to the top of the league without a top tier sidekick that both Leonard and James have. It is also completely unfair to dethrone the reigning MVP after he proceeded to post even better numbers than he did last year. The Bucks own the Eastern Conference right now, making it theirs to lose. Despite Milwaukee’s struggles since the restart, they are still the favorites to win it all. The time is now for Giannis to cement his legacy at only 25-years-old.
Everyone will make the typical Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo argument, using their accolades, team records and stats to validate their points. If you actually take the time to analyze the game, yes they are currently some of the best players in the league, but none of them were able to accomplish what Jayson Tatum has done. Tatum has led the Boston Celtics to a 6-0 record in the playoffs while averaging 27.2 ppg and 9.3 rpg. Not to mention he’s shooting just about 50% from the field and 46.5% from three. Tatum and the Celtics swept the 76ers and are currently up 2-0 on a very good Raptors team. Don’t forget it’s only his third season in the league. People will counter saying “he plays in the east,” but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter, the man gets straight buckets. If he keeps these stats up and his team continues to click on both sides of the floor, the NBA championship is well in reach for Tatum and the Celtics.
Thumbnail image courtesy of @kawhielite on Instagram 08/22/20.