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News Analysis

Leonard has been the star of stars in NBA play-offs so far

The stars are shining brightly in the National Basketball Association (NBA) play-offs.

Isaiah Thomas is a one-man wrecking crew for the Boston Celtics , scoring 53 points - 29 in the fourth quarter - in their Game Two overtime win against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday.

This after requiring more than 10 hours of dental work over two days due to a lost tooth in Game One and the tragic death of his sister last month.

LeBron James has averaged 34.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.3 assists this post-season, playing 42.2 minutes a night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

James Harden scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for the Houston Rockets in the series opener against the San Antonio Spurs and had 13 points and 10 assists in Game Two.

With Leonard on the court, the Spurs outscored opponents by 11.3 net points per 100 possessions in their first seven playoff games. Without him, they were outscored by 17.2, losing more than 10 points per 100 offensive possessions - quite a feat for a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

The Golden State Warriors got 22 points from two-time reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP) Stephen Curry in three quarters of work on Tuesday.

Al Horford is averaging 16 points, nine rebounds and 6.5 assists per game with an effective field goal percentage of 68 per cent for the Celtics, putting him in the company of NBA legends Larry Bird and Wilt Chamberlain.

Yet, despite all those superhuman performances, the Spurs' Kawhi Leonard has been the MVP in this year's play-offs.

He is scoring 30.3 points per game in the post-season while hitting 50 per cent from the three-point line.

With Leonard on the court, the Spurs outscored opponents by 11.3 net points per 100 possessions in their first seven play-off games.

Without him in that period, they were outscored by 17.2, losing more than 10 points per 100 offensive possessions - quite a feat for a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

Plus, he led all MVP contenders in true shooting percentage (70.1 per cent), player efficiency rating (35.1), win shares per 48 minutes (.377) and box-score plus minus (12.3) going into Game Two.

And Leonard is making a true impact to the Spurs' win column.

According to research guru Mike Beuoy's win probability added metric - which takes all field goal attempts, free throw attempts and turnovers for each player, giving more credit to a player for clutch shots with penalties for failing to come through when the game is on the line - Leonard (1.98 win probability added or WPA) has single-handedly been responsible for the first four of the Spurs' play-off wins this post-season.

Thomas, the second-most valuable player by this metric (1.4 WPA) before Wednesday's games, can be credited with three of Boston's six play-off wins.

Beuoy's win probability metric excludes rebounds, assists, blocks and steals because, in his words, "(it's) easy enough to credit a player for grabbing a rebound, but how do you debit a player for not grabbing one?" That's why the efforts of James (0.76 WPA) and Harden (0.72 WPA) get discounted.

However, when you factor in those box-score statistics using Beuoy's "kitchen sink" win probability added, Leonard ranks No. 2 behind Washington's John Wall.

But the fraction of a win difference between Wall and Leonard cannot make up for Leonard besting him in every other meaningful efficiency statistic during this play-off run.

Of course, Leonard has no chance of being named NBA Finals MVP if the Spurs do not figure out a way to beat Houston.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2017, with the headline 'Leonard has been the star of stars in NBA play-offs so far'. Print Edition | Subscribe