Kawhi Leonard has won the Defensive Player of the Year award, the league announced via press release. He nipped fellow soon-to-be restricted free agent Draymond Green by just 16 points in the tally that gives five points for first-place votes, three points for second-place votes and one point for third-place votes. Green earned eight more first-place votes from the media members who cast the ballots, but he fell just shy of the honor. DeAndre Jordan wasn’t far behind, finishing third, and he’s about to go into free agency, too.
Leonard only played in 64 games thanks in large measure to an injury to his right hand, but he made up for lost time in the second half of the season, furthering his case as a future star worthy of a max deal this summer. He led the league with 2.3 steals per game, even with the ailing hand, and the Spurs were 5.1 points per 100 possessions better when Leonard was on the floor compared when he wasn’t this season, according to NBA.com. The 23-year-old trailed only Andrew Bogut, who finished sixth in the voting, in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus/Minus metric, though he was just ninth in Basketball-Reference’s Defensive Box Plus/Minus.
Spurs coach/president Gregg Popovich has referred to Leonard as a “coach’s dream,” and the team would be expected to match any offer sheet he might sign this summer. The failure of the sides to come to terms on an extension this past fall seemingly had more to do with San Antonio’s desire to preserve cap flexibility to go after marquee names like LaMarcus Aldridge or Marc Gasol as I explained earlier.