The reasons Kawhi Leonard is an MVP candidate this season aren't always obvious.
However, there was one possession in Toronto's matchup with the Denver Nuggets earlier in the season that showed how valuable the two-time All-Star is to the Raptors.
It started with a turnover from the Nuggets. Pascal Siakam came up with the loose ball and immediately looked to take advantage by pushing the pace in transition.
The Nuggets were able to get back in time to prevent the Raptors from scoring a quick bucket, but Siakam's tempo created a couple of mismatches by forcing Denver to pick up the closest player to them, the most notable being Jamal Murray on Leonard.
After receiving the ball from Siakam, Kyle Lowry wisely looked to exploit that mismatch by skipping a pass to Leonard on the opposite side of the court before the Nuggets had an opportunity to switch Murray off of him. The Raptors then cleared the right side of the court for Leonard to attack the smaller Murray in isolation, like so:
Rather than making a quick move towards the basket, Leonard took a more methodical approach by turning his back to Murray and backing him down. Doing so forced Murray's teammates to drop back to provide help defence in case Leonard looked to score.
With Leonard being one of the more efficient post-up scorers in the league, the Nuggets chose to double him when he got closer to the paint.
Knowing what was coming, Leonard made a pass out to Danny Green on the 3-point line as soon as Torrey Craig committed to the double.
The timing of that pass is important.
A second sooner and Craig would've likely been close enough to Green for Juan Hernangomez, who rotated over to prevent the Raptors guard from getting an open 3-pointer, to stay where he was. A second later? Hernangomez would've likely made an earlier rotation, buying Craig or Murray valuable time to switch onto either Siakam or Lowry on the other side of the court.
Because it was timed perfectly, Leonard's pass paved the way for Siakam to make a cut towards the basket when Hernangomez closed out on Green.
Siakam's cut drew Craig, Millsap and Nikola Jokic into the paint, leaving Lowry open for a catch-and-shoot 3-point attempt, a shot he made at a 41.3 percent clip last season.
Here's the sequence from start to finish:
Leonard didn't get credit for doing anything in the box score - not even a hockey assist, as it was Green who made the pass before the assist- but his fingerprints were all over the possession. It started with his gravitational pull as a scorer and extended to the pass that set off a chain reaction.
Simple as it might look, it shows how the value of superstars like Leonard extends far beyond the counting stats. More telling is how the Raptors are almost 5.7 points per 100 possessions better offensively with Leonard in the lineup so far this season, giving him one of the best offensive ratings in the league.
That number is a testament to his dominance as a scorer and the impact he has on his teammates.
"It never gets old when somebody can make the game easier for you," Green recently told ESPN.