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NBA players see Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard as the league’s best defender

Kawhi Leonard, Raptors

Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard is making a case for one of the NBA’s top annual awards.

As the NBA regular season starts to give way to postseason action, people are also starting to see the NBA’s individual awards shape up.

The NBA MVP is a toss-up between Milwaukee BucksGiannis Antetokounmpo and Houston RocketsJames Harden. The Rookie of the Year honors is a race between Dallas MavericksLuka Doncic and Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young. While the Defensive Player of the Year is a contest between Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert, Oklahoma City Thunder’s Paul George, and Philadelphia 76ersJoel Embiid.

However, in a recent poll spearheaded by The Athletic’s Sam Amick, 114 players were asked to vote on who they believe is the best defender in the league right now. Interestingly, the overwhelming favorite is Kawhi Leonard.

Who’s the best defender? (114 votes)

Kawhi Leonard (30.3%)
Paul George (16.2%)
Rudy Gobert (14.9%)
Patrick Beverley (10.5%)
Joel Embiid (4.4%)
Jrue Holiday (3.5%)

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Draymond Green, Kris Dunn (2.6%)
Klay Thompson, Torrey Craig, Mikal Bridges, Marcus Smart (1.7%)
Myles Turner; Kyle Lowry; Steven Adams; P.J Tucker; Royce O’Neale; David Nwaba (1%)

Leonard’s defensive stats might not scream DPOY worthy (1.8 steals, 0.4 blocks per game this season), but as Amick pointed out, defense is usually in the eyes of the beholder. With that said, Toronto’s close to 15 percent lead over George is a testament of what how great Kawhi is in that aspect.

Although Leonard has taken a back seat in terms of the best player in the league conversations, one aspect of his game has remained, and that’s his defense. From his time with the San Antonio Spurs, he has earned a reputation as an elite defender.

Leonard has avoided the spotlight since his trade to the Raptors, but if there’s one guy in the postseason that most players aren’t looking forward to going up against, especially if they’re on the offensive side, it’s definitely The Klaw.