As the dust settles from the Toronto Raptors' first championship, we're rolling out our Raptors Report Cards on each key member of the team from this past season. Before turning the page into the 2019-20 season as free agency begins, we'll take a closer look back at how everyone performed in 2018-19.
Kawhi Leonard just wrapped up one of the most impressive individual postseason runs in NBA history.
In averaging 30.5 points over 24 playoff games, Leonard finished with a total of 732 points, the third most all-time in a single postseason. More importantly, of course, he led the Raptors to their first-ever NBA title (his second), earning Finals MVP honours for the second time his eight-year career.
MORE: How does Kawhi's run stack up historically?
Of course, this didn't just happen overnight. Kawhi hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy on June 13, 2019, was a moment nearly one year in the making.
When Masai Ujiri orchestrated the trade that would send the All-Star forward to Toronto in July, 2018, it was a high-risk, high-reward move. At best, the Raptors received a top-five player in the league with the ability to alter the franchise but at worst, health problems persist for a player coming off of a season in which he played just nine games before he leaves in his impending free agency.
The end result made it all worth it, but it was a climb.
Kawhi was a bit rusty during the preseason but he opened the season with games of 24 points and 31 points in wins over the Cavs and Celtics, respectively, to show that it would be just a matter of time before all of the rust would be shaken off. Just three games into the regular season, we were provided with a sign of things to come as he sat during the Raptors win over the Wizards due to 'load management.'
He would go on to appear in 60 games, posting career bests in scoring (26.6 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg) while also averaging 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals per game to show that he was back to his peak level of play. Despite missing 22 games, Kawhi was a starter in the 2019 All-Star Game and named Second-Team All-NBA as well as Second Team All-Defence, reestablishing himself as one of the best - if not the best - two-way players in the league.
Even in his absence, the Raptors kept their heads above water, going 17-5 in the aforementioned 22 games as they would finish the season with the East's (and the league's) second-best record. Leonard's workload was a critical component towards Toronto's ultimate goal and he finished the regular season fourth on his own team in total minutes and 97th in the NBA.
Still, it was clear that in order to make that next step, Toronto would need its best player at his best.
MORE: Odds to win 2020 NBA title
Like many greats, Leonard elevated his game in the postseason, as evidenced by his improved scoring (30.5 ppg), rebounding (9.1 rpg) and assist (3.9 apg) numbers. Even more impressive is the fact that he did not miss one playoff game despite logging 39.1 minutes per game while playing through apparent discomfort.
He delivered signature performances:
- Opening (45 points) and closing (41 points) the Eastern Conference Semifinals with monster scoring nights
- Lifting the Raptors past the Bucks in double overtime by scoring 36 points while playing 52 minutes to avoid falling in a 3-0 hole
- Scoring 36 points to give the Raptors a 3-1 lead over the Warriors in the NBA Finals
And signature moments:
- A dagger 3-pointer in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals
- A winner-takes-all series-clincher at the buzzer in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals
- Two big dunks over the Bucks' MVP in the Eastern Conference Finals
- And time-appropriate takeovers in the NBA Finals that would ultimately lead to Toronto winning its first title.
MVP MVP MVP pic.twitter.com/5qsTvc27w0- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) June 17, 2019
In a year where Leonard had already proven himself and could have coasted or held back once his apparent ailments became a hindrance, he did the exact opposite. He laid his body on the line, played through fatigue and his personal risk paid off - he is now a two-time NBA champion and two-time NBA Finals MVP.
That sacrifice alone is worth an exemplary grade.
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