The Substance Report is an official rankings that I thought was necessary to come up with to determine which players throughout the league are most valuable to their team. Each day, for the next 11 days, there will be an article dedicated to a single player that demonstrates both his value to the league, but more importantly, the weight on his shoulders on his own team.
An example of the rhetorical questions to ask yourself throughout the readings of the ranking is something along the lines of, "What would the Warriors look like without Stephen Curry? How much worse off would they be as a team? Could they still win an NBA Championship if they just released him to the depths of a fiery hell? Would Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson's efficiency go up because they would have more shot opportunities with Steph out of the rotation?" and other important meditations similar to that nature.
This is what the rankings look like so far.
30. Lou "Two Girls and They Get Along Like I'm Lou Will" Williams
29. Domantas "Arvydas's Son" Sabonis
28. Montrezl "Holy Shit That Guy Tries Hard" Harrell
27. Mike "Never Leaving Memphis Because Cash Rules Everything Around Me C.R.E.A.M.!" Conley
26. Klay "Not Just Steph's Sidekick" Thompson
25. Trae "Ugliest Player in the League" Young
24. Ben "Kendall Jenner's Bae / Fresh Prince" Simmons
23. Nikola "Diet Jokic" Vucevic
22. Karl-Anthony "Who Was the Last Good Player With Two First Names?" Towns
21. Blake "Pray My Knees Will Be Okay Come April" Griffin
20. Devin "Should I Just Become a Point Guard?" Booker
19. Anthony "'I'll Tell On You To Rich Paul!' / AD" Davis
18. Russell "I Didn't Know a Professional Could Take Their Job Too Seriously / Why Not?" Westbrook
17. Joel "The Cameroonian Clown / The Process" Embiid
16. Bradley "Will Somebody Please Trade John Wall Already?" Beal
15. Donovan "Still Salty About His 2nd Place Spot In The ROTY Contest / Spida" Mitchell
14. Kemba "Can Do Cool Crossovers But May Never Win A Playoff Series" Walker
13. Luka "Thick and Slick / Halleluka" Dončić
12. Kawhi "Typically Silent, But Mostly Deadly / Klaw" Leonard
He will guard your best player. He can score from any area of the floor. He can disrupt your entire game plan. And he'll do it all without flashing one cocky smile, or speaking one word to his helpless opponent.
Kawhi's off the court demeanor and personality is one-of-a-kind in our modern generation of NBA superstars. The league that exists today has almost too many personalities. From Embiid's goofiness, to LeBron's obsession with legacy, to KD's criticism of society, to Kyrie's always-on-acid-vibe; the ultimate result equals out to Kawhi Leonard's relaxed, couldn't give less of a shit attitude.
Some people care too much, but at first glance the 2014 Finals MVP seems as if he doesn't care at all. Even his laugh sounds like it was programmed into his vocal chords by some Spurs behind the scenes mechanic, and wasn't an actual result of paying attention to something funny that somebody said.
However, Kawhi's attitude on the court may seem just as reserved as his personality off of it, but don't be fooled because his competitive nature is towards the top of the totem pole. Since his departure from the Spurs which resulted in his joining of the Toronto Raptors, Kawhi Leonard has dispelled all of the rumors that he didn't care about basketball (these falsities sparked when he, and his crazy ass uncle Dennis, decided to sit out for nearly the entire season in his final year as a member of the Spurs).
Leonard's almost single-handedly (shout out to Head Coach Nick Nurse) elevated the Raptors into the top tier of championship contenders. DeMar DeRozan was a fine, and excellent player on the Raptors roster for nearly a decade, but his progression outside of the three-point arc had grown stagnant along with Toronto's chance of advancing past the LeBroninated Eastern Conference (don't you dare steal that term, THAT'S MY TERM. MINE!). DeMar was a perennial All-Star and a hero in the city of Toronto, but when the opportunity arises to swap an All-Star player for an All-NBA player: You don't fucking hesitate. You do it, and you do it fast.
(Side note: quick shoutout to DeMar DeRozan for having FOUR capital letters in his first and last name.)
At one point in his career, Leonard was regarded as the second or third best player in the world behind Durant and LeBron, and he was also the undoubted best two way player in the league. That narrative quickly faltered off once his injuries began to plague his ability to step on the court in San Antonio. Perhaps a change of scenery was all that Leonard needed to boost his confidence and eagerness to win another ring.
The two-time Defensive Player of the Year is having a career season with the revolutionized Raptors. He's averaging a career high in points per game, and is playing in a system that allows him to expose all of the defenders that think they're capable of decoding his programmed repertoire of moves and countermoves.
Kawhi Leonard's Two Best Career Seasons
2016-17: 25.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 48.5% FG, 38% 3PT, 88% FT, 1.8 steals, 0.7 blocks
2018-19: 26.8 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 3.3 APG, 49.4% FG, 37% 3PT, 86.2% FT, 1.8 steals, 0.4 blocks
For the first time since he got injured against the Golden State Warriors in the first game of the 2017 Western Conference Finals (go fuck yourself, Andrew Bogut), Kawhi Leonard is playing at an MVP level.
- He's inhaling around seven-and-a-half rebounds per game alongside three legitimate glass eaters in Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol.
- He's snatching the ball from guards and forwards on the perimeter if they ever get lazy with their handle for even a split second.
- He's making almost half of his shots as the focal point of Toronto's offense, and he's doing it on shooting splits that flirt with the historical 50-40-90 club.
Kawhi's resurgence as a top six or seven player in the league is largely a result of the roster that is built around him. Leonard is playing with the most talent he's ever had the privilege to play alongside since the early 2010's Spurs that featured past-their-primes-but-still-really-fucking-good-at-playing-basketball Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw, and holy-shit-was-he-the-best-shooter-in-the-world-between-Ray's-descension-and-Steph's-ascension(???) Danny Green.
The Raptors roster that features former All-Stars Kyle Lowry, and Marc Gasol alongside future All-Star Pascal Siakam, with quality role players Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, Danny Green (not the best shooter in the world now), Jeremy Lin, and OG Anunoby is perfectly complimentary to Kawhi's ideal playing style. He's allowed more spacing than he's ever had since that beautiful brand of basketball that the Spurs played back then, but now that spacing is complimented by the athleticism surrounding him.
Siakam is capable of grabbing a rebound and pushing it up the floor himself. Lowry, Lin, and VanVleet are all above average playmakers that can put Kawhi in positions to succeed every time down the floor. Gasol and Ibaka can act as shooting decoys and force the big guys guarding them to step out of the paint in order to give Kawhi more space to attack the basket.
Leonard is the leader of second best team in the league (according to the regular season standings), and is the closest he's been to a championship since Tim Duncan's knees retired. The former Finals MVP is the head of the snake that could bite the Golden State boys in their ass. He's the perfect Durant, Klay and Curry counter, and has been aching to beat their upper echelon asses since Bogut sent his career into a twisted tailspin. Could this year be the season where Kawhi cements himself as one of the 20 greatest players ever? By beating one of the only teams to ever feature five future Hall of Famers in their starting lineup? The matchups suggest that the Raptors would have as good of a chance as anybody, but first things first they have to advance to the Finals for the first time in franchise history. Maybe a change in franchise players will be the formula that gets them there.