The question regarding who will come out of the Eastern Conference is finally over. With Lebron James finally moving West, his former stomping grounds are wide open for competition and that’s what we noticed this season.
The Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, and Milwaukee Bucks were all three predicted to reach the NBA Finals by somebody, but a team that had a rather up-and-down season, the Toronto Raptors were the team that prospered in the end. Why? Because they have the best player, who’s had two previous Finals appearances, in a tougher conference.
A big question spreading across NBA Twitter is, does this Kawhi Leonard run expose Lebron’s streak of eight-straight Finals appearances? Does it lessen the significance of that?
Why would it:
Well, Kawhi literally just shredded through the conference, with an injured leg with ease, on both ends of the floor. He cruised past the Magic, humbled Joel Embiid and the 76ers and just exposed the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo for the inexperienced youth that he is. It all looked a bit Lebronesque while putting up historically great numbers.
Leonard averaged career-high numbers in his first year as a Raptor, with 26.6 points, and 7.3 rebounds per game. In the playoffs, however? He’s turned it up a notch, averaging 31.1 points per game, with two game-winning shots, one of which being a series-clinching buzzer-beating shot. Not to mention, he repeatedly dunked on a 6-foot-11 Defensive Player of the Year candidate that’s nicknamed the Greek Freak.
Leonard is a force to be reckoned with in the NBA due to his versatility and dominance on both ends of the floor. Although he wasn’t a top three candidate for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award, he’s like Lebron in that he’s probably the best defensive player in the NBA every year, but you have to give it to someone else to keep things interesting.
Why does it not change a thing:
It’s easy to say these things when you know you can’t accurately compare them. That goes for the age-old ‘top five’ debate, the GOAT debate, and so on. It’s hard to rank these things when you have no concrete way of accurately comparing the two aside from opinion or the tired championship(s) debate.
Lebron James is dominant. The most dominant we’ve seen since Kobe Bryant, and maybe more so than him. That being considered, it’s hard to dismiss what Lebron did for eight consecutive seasons all because we’re witnessing Leonard doing it one time. Over the course of eight years, so many changes, so may teams sole focus was to build their team around defeating James. This is Kawhi’s first rodeo in the conference and many (including myself) were unsure of the caliber of player he’d be after his weird episode with injuries in San Antonio just last season.
It may be a good idea for everyone to stop letting recent, trendy things like Leonard leading the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA Finals appearance change their view of Lebron’s eight years of utter and complete dominance of the Eastern Conference.
If Leonard actually stays with the Raptors and dominates like he did this season for a couple more seasons, we can revisit this topic but until then, let’s stop being so quick to change our opinion on something that should require a larger body of work to determine.