Breaking down the Kawhi Leonard “Dynasty Killer” myth

NBA Toronto Raptors Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
NBA Toronto Raptors Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

Is Kawhi Leonard really a Dynasty Killer? We explore

Kawhi Leonard has won his second NBA Finals, as well as his second Finals MVP. Since then, many have dubbed Kawhi “The Dynasty Killer”, due to his two Finals wins coming against LeBron JamesMiami Heat in 2014, and against the superstar team Golden State Warriors in 2019.

However, this idea is a little flawed. First off, it’s not just one guy who brings down a superteam like the Heat and the Warriors. The 2013-14 Spurs had Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili; and Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, and Patty Mills all stepped up and played big games when they were needed.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the 2013-14 Spurs had bigger stars than the Heat that year did (it’s hard to beat a big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh), but I would argue that they were deeper than the Heat.

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Across the five games, the Spurs averaged three guys scoring above 15 a game, whereas the Heat averaged two. The Heat had four players contribute 15+ point games during the series (LeBron, Wade, Bosh, and Allen), while the Spurs had six (Parker, Duncan, Ginobili, Green, Leonard, and Mills).

Certainly, the Heat had the better stars but, I would argue, the Spurs actually had the better team. Tiago Splitter hasn’t played a game in the NBA since 2016, and even in the 16-17 season he only played eight games, yet he had multiple 14 point games and was a key bench player for the Spurs.

Mills currently averages nine points and three assists as a backup point guard for San Antonio. I say this to show how coach Pop had crafted a system that brought players who would be seen as bench warmers on nearly any other team, and he was able to elevate them to key rotation players. He was the difference maker in that series, and if coach’s could win finals MVP, it would’ve been his no doubt.

Jump ahead five years, and Leonard finds himself toppling another phenomenal team en route to a three-peat. But again, he didn’t do it alone. Lowry, Siakam, Ibaka, and VanVleet all came to play. In fact, if it wasn’t for Siakam recording 32 points, eight rebounds, five assists, one steal, and two blocks in the first game, the Raptors probably would’ve lost, sending them into a 2-0 hole going to Oracle, one of the toughest arenas to win at. All else equal, the Warriors still snag a Game 5 victory, and head into Game 6 up 3-2, and almost certainly squeeze out a win in their final game at Oracle.

Not just that, but the Raptors really benefited from a hurt and broken down Warriors squad. Klay missed game three, and tore his ACL in Game 6, meaning he probably wasn’t at his peak during Games 4 and 5. Still he managed to average 27 points on 50 percent shooting in those two games, as well as hitting a couple clutch threes at the end of game 5 to secure a Warriors victory. Looney was causing all sorts of problems for the Raptors, and he wasn’t in his top shape either. Kevin Durant missed 5 3/4 out of six games. He only played for 12 minutes in Game 5, and it was enough to give Golden State another game.

One final problem I have with this moniker, one loss doesn’t end a dynasty. I would argue the Bulls dynasty went from 1991-1998 without any breaks, and they didn’t even make the Finals in ’94 and ’95. The Lakers and Spurs both had a huge dynasty going from 1999-2010, and neither of them made the finals in 2006.

The Heat dynasty fell apart because of injuries to Chris Bosh, and LeBron James leaving to go back to Cleveland. If they’d stayed together, and everyone had stayed healthy, the Heat might have put up a big threat to the Warriors during their first championship win.

As for Golden State, this wasn’t even the first time that they lost in the Finals. The Cavs took them down in 2016, and nobody was claiming that they just ended a dynasty. I would argue that a defending champion team winning 73 games in the regular season was in the middle of a dynasty, and nobody thought that it was the end of them in 2016.

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If the Warriors are able to re-sign Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, then Golden State’s dominance will continue. Maybe not next year (Durant and Thompson are both slatted to miss some time, with KD out for the whole season), but in two or three years this dynasty will be back up and running if they keep their key players.