Tom Bogert, CBS Local Sports
Kawhi Leonard, in a painfully typical San Antonio Spursian way, truly is a one of a kind player. Or so it was thought.
ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight came across a peculiar comparison, one that may not have been worked into any hypotheses before: Leonard and Larry Bird.
How’d they draw that conclusion? Well, seeing as the end result is given away, circumventing back to the beginning seems the route to follow.
Leonard’s new found lights out deep shooting this season, matched with his other previously accrued skills including his famed ability to haunt ball handlers like Jaws, sent FiveThirtyEight out to run the numbers and see if anyone matched.
The premises that FiveThirtyEight digitally drew out that led to their conclusion was stipulated by three point percentage and added variables around it to designate the most well-rounded, complete marksman on the hardwood.
The data showed that 2016 Leonard and three renditions of Bird (1980, 1985, 1986) are in a class of their own.
Larry Legend ranked in top percentiles across true shooting, assist rate, usage, rebound rate and defensive box plus/minus (BPM) those years. Leonard has similar scores thus far in 2015-16, though second to Bird’s 1985 season as Leonard’s rebound and assist rates are merely above average rather than elite. “Merely.”
In the name of relativity, FiveThirtyEight calculated Steph Curry’s ratings in those categories, too. Curry is (obviously) elite in true shooting, usage and assist rate, but he’s mediocre in rebounding and BPM.
At the same time, FiveThirtyEight figured out the league’s standard three point proficient players. The J.J. Redick’s and Kyle Korver’s of years past.
Those players would be expected to have a decent assist rate and ball handling, then not much else. Their BPM, usage and rebounding would be below league averages.
Obviously neither Leonard nor Bird are shooting at the rate that Curry is, nor do they or any other being in any nonfictional universe that may or may not exist have the limitless range that Curry does, but Bird and Leonard do everything else at an elite or near elite level too.
So when the term sharp shooter is tossed around in reference to the NBA, the likes of Curry, Korver and Redick will be muttered. Or, just Curry. Which is completely rational. So when it’s discussed who’s the second best shooter behind Curry, Leonard’s name should be thrown into the discussion.
Then when the MVP race is discussed in reference to the NBA this season, when the likes of Curry, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook are speared into the debate, Leonard’s name had better be anointed too.
As well as the notion that he’s Larry Bird 2.0., just to show off atypical and superior basketball knowledge, of course.