It’s still far too early to start thinking about awards and honours, but fleeting thoughts about all-star and all-NBA and, yes, most valuable player awards aren’t far away.
“The guy, he’s talented, man,” Raptors teammate Pascal Siakam said of Leonard. “I think people forgot that a little bit, how talented he is, the things he can do at the level he can do them at.
“Not just (score), but be on defence and guard the best guy on the team, get steals and do all those other things. It’s fun to watch.”
The thing that stands out most is that Leonard has this amazing combination of brutish power and subtle elegance to his game.
The left-handed dunk he threw down on Brooklyn’s Jarrett Allen on Friday night was eye-popping but so, too, was a sneaky little steal along the sideline in front of the Nets’ bench that set up a transition opportunity for the Raptors.
Toronto has had a number of outstanding players over the years like Damon Stoudamire, Vince Carter and Chris Bosh, each of whom could dominate a game.
“You can probably say he is the best two-way player in basketball,” Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks said earlier this month. “And the way he takes the challenge of guarding the best players every night — that takes a lot out of you physically but mentally you have to be mentally strong to challenge yourself every possession to guard the best players. And if you do get scored on you have to reboot pretty quickly because you have to do the same thing the next time down the court.
“But he has the quickness, he has the post-up game, the mid-range game, he shoots threes, he gets to the free throw line. There is nothing he doesn’t do well.”
Leonard is not one to boast about his accomplishments, all he wants to do each night is play hard and win. Even the prospect of facing Milwaukee’s star Giannis Antetokounmpo on Sunday doesn’t get him going, at least publicly.
“They’re a great team, he’s leading them at a high level,” Leonard said Saturday. “Like I said, going into any other game, wanting to go in and play my hardest basketball and try to get a win and have fun.”
Regardless of what Leonard says, however, the meeting with Antetokounmpo adds a large measure of “juice” to a nondescript December regular-season game. Neither star played when the teams met in the first weeks of the season, so the hype for Sunday is building.
“I think it’s intriguing in general just because they are both going to want to go at each other a little bit,” Nurse said Saturday.
“Guard each other and go at each other and while we don’t want it to be a personal battle I’m assuming there will be a little personal-ness going on between them. I would imagine both of them are going to be excited to play and play with a lot of energy and force and try to get a lot of things done.
“They are both talked about (as being) among the best players in the East, both are in MVP talks now, so I think this is a game for them to see what happens.”