Kawhi Leonard voted NBA’s best player in ESPN coaches poll


Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard holds his playoffs MVP trophy. (Frank Gunn/CP)

To say it’s been a wild off-season in the NBA would be quite the understatement. If you boil it all down, though, this summer of basketball follows the same template as the season we just saw:

Kawhi Leonard wins it all once again, and the New York Knicks wind up losers… again.

Leonard’s historic championship run with the Toronto Raptors earned him his second title, his second Finals MVP crown and, according to an ESPN survey of 20 coaches, executives, and scouts from across the league, solidified his standing atop his peers as the best player in the NBA today.

The L.A.-born baller, who returned home this summer with a league-altering move to join the Clippers (and brought the Thunder’s Paul George with him), led the field by a large margin in the “best player” category with 12 votes followed by Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo (six) and James Harden (two).

Per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, who conducted the survey, “Several people said they would’ve at least considered Kevin Durant — if not outright picked him — had he been healthy and not recovering from a torn Achilles tendon.” And while LeBron James was in the conversation as well, he did not receive any votes.

When it came to which of this off-season’s moves the coaches and executives liked most, Leonard and the Clippers landed on top there, too, with 10 voters praising the club’s ability to land both Leonard and Paul George despite the steep cost in assets. The Utah Jazz’s acquisition of Bojan Bogdanovic and Mike Conley, the Pelicans’ roster-altering moves, and Philadelphia’s signings (Josh Richardson and Al Horford) all received two votes apiece.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Knicks were voted as the team with the worst off-season. (They tied with Phoenix, with six votes.) New York was slated to be the preferred destination for Kevin Durant — and maybe Kyrie Irving, too, and were even considered to be in the mix for Leonard at one point in time. None of those, of course, came to fruition, with Durant and Irving going to the other New York club over in Brooklyn while the Knicks signed a handful of big men that makes for a bit of a head-scratching lineup.

This quote about the Knicks from an Eastern Conference executive is particularly strong:

“…I don’t get what they did … I guess it was better than spending $80 million on two free agents. But that’s like saying you’re eating healthier because you didn’t go to McDonald’s for lunch and Burger King for dinner.

“Yes, you’re eating healthier — but only because you couldn’t eat worse.”

The survey saved the biggest question for last: Who’s going to win the conference, and win it all?

The poll results don’t point to the Raptors running it back. Instead, they believe it’ll be the Bucks winning the East (12 votes), ahead of the 76ers (8), with Kawhi’s Clipper’s dominating the West (16 votes) before also being the overwhelming favourite to win the championship (13 votes). The Bucks and 76ers received two title votes each while the Jazz, Nuggets, and Rockets each got one.

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