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Toronto Raptors

How Kawhi Leonard's missed games impacts his candidacy for MVP, other awards

Kawhi Leonard arrives to Scotiabank Arena prior to Tuesday's game vs Sacramento
Kawhi Leonard arrives to Scotiabank Arena prior to Tuesday's game vs Sacramento (Getty Images)

Kawhi Leonard missed his third straight game on Tuesday as the Toronto Raptors defeated the Sacramento Kings.

He's now missed 13 games so far this season which amounts to a little over a quarter of Toronto's games.

It's no secret that the Raptors entered the season with the long view in mind after a nagging quad injury limited him to just nine games last season in San Antonio. They'd take their time working Leonard back to 100 percent with an eye on sustained success and a deep run into May and June in favour of winning as much as possible in January.

It's both prudent and wise.

We have, however, reached the point where it's time to start asking how all of this missed time impact his odds of taking home individual hardware.

Most Valuable Player

When available and in the lineup, Leonard has looked every bit like the MVP candidate at the height of his powers in 2015-16 and 2016-17 when he finished second and third, respectively.

He's averaging over two more points per game than he ever has and trending upward. After averaging 24.3 points per game over his first 16 games of the season, he's pouring in over 30 a game since the statement win over the Golden State Warriors on November 29 when he dropped 37.

The only two players scoring at a better clip over that span are James Harden and Anthony Davis.

His rebounding is at an all-time high, his assists are up and while not having a banner year on the defensive end, is still one of the league's elite perimeter defenders.

And yet we're already at the point where he's simply missed too much time to seriously enter the MVP discussion.

Even if he played every game from here on out, 13 missed games already means he won't get to 70 games played.

Not including the lockout years, the only players in NBA history to win the MVP while playing fewer than 70 games are Bill Walton, Bob Cousy and Bill Russell.

Russell played in 69 of Boston's 72 games in 1957-68 while averaging over 38 minutes a game.

Cousy appeared in 64 of Boston's 72 games in 1956-57 while playing nearly 37 minutes a game.

The only real precedent for a player winning the MVP despite missing considerable time is Bill Walton who played in 58 of 82 games in 1977-78.

He might be playing like an MVP, but Leonard has simply missed too much time to be a part of the conversation anymore this season.

Defensive Player of the Year

Though he hasn't been the smothering octopus on D that we've seen in the past, Leonard remains one of the game's best on that end. If he were to suddenly perk up defensively and lead a Raptors' surge towards the top of the defensive rankings, he'd be right there in the conversation.

Would the missed time hamper his ability to contend for a third Defensive Player of the Year award?

While sitting out games certainly doesn't help, it's not quite as much of a non-starter as it can be for the MVP award.

Case in point? Rudy Gobert last season. He won DPOY despite appearing in only 56 games, fewer than even Walton when he won the MVP award.

Leonard himself won the award for the first time in 2014-15 while missing 18 games while Kevin Garnett, Marcus Camby, and David Robinson are among those to win it while missing more than 10 games.

All-NBA Teams

Making an All-NBA team as a forward has perhaps never been harder.

LeBron James. Kevin Durant. Giannis Antetokounmpo. Leonard. Paul George. Jimmy Butler. LaMarcus Aldridge. Draymond Green. Blake Griffin. Even Anthony Davis, though he was considered a centre each of the last two seasons, was named to the first team in 2014-15 as a forward.

Missing games when it comes to making an All-NBA team is less forgiving than Defensive Player of the Year and (not surprisingly) less forgiving when compared to MVP winners.

Missed Games - Last 5 Seasons
Average Most Missed
MVP 3.4 10 - Harden, 2017-18
Def Player of the Year 12.4 26 - Gobert, 2017-18
1st-Team All-Defense 8.3 26 - Gobert, 2017-18
1st-Team All-NBA 6.4 20 - Paul, 2013-14
2nd-Team All-NBA 8.0 23 - Cousins, 2014-15
3rd-Team All-NBA 6.7 31 - Curry, 2017-18

There have been cases over the last five years of players missing significant time and still receiving All-NBA honors.

Curry and Butler last season both missed more than 20 games en route to the third team.

Durant (2016-17) and DeMarcus Cousins (2014-15) both missed more than 20 games en route to the second team.

Chris Paul missed 20 games and still made the first team in 2013-14.

All this to say that even though Leonard has already missed 13 games and will surely continue to miss some time for maintenance, he can still make a run towards an All-NBA nod.

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