Bucks Lead

King of the East: Giannis vs. Kawhi

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When LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Los Angeles Lakers this past summer it was almost unanimously agreed on by fans and experts that Giannis Antetokounmpo was then the best player in the Eastern conference. That was until Kawhi Leonard was traded from the San Antonio Spurs to the Toronto Raptors. Both players have gotten off to solid starts this season, but in this article we’ll look at who takes the throne as the new king of the East moving forward.

The Case for Giannis

When comparing two players, the first thing that you should look at is their statistical production. And when you compare Giannis and Kawhi it is clear that Giannis is the better player in both his career stats and when you compare their best seasons against each other.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Career: 17.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.3 BPG

Best Season: 26.9 PPG, 10 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.4 BPG

Kawhi Leonard

Career: 16.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.3 AST, 1.8 STL, 0.7 BLK

Best Season: 25.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.5 AST, 1.8 STL, 0.7 BLK

Giannis beats Kawhi in every category for both their careers and their best season except for steals. While they are both two of the best players in the league, Giannis has shown in the past that he can put up the numbers that are necessary of the best player in the conference. And if the first game of this season is any indication, then Giannis will continue to fill the stat sheet on a nightly basis.

Giannis has also never really missed many games besides the occasional sprained ankle or a sore knee. In his five years in the league, he has never played less than 75 games. Kawhi on the other hand has actually never even reached 75 games in a season –the most him playing in being 74– and has only eclipsed the 70 mark twice. And of course there was the whole debacle last year as to whether or not Kawhi was actually injured or taking a hiatus from the team. Being available for your team is one the biggest if not the biggest attribute a star player can possess.

The Case for Kawhi

While Giannis has shown to put up better numbers on the score board, it is Leonard who has more often than not been the player on the team with the higher score at the end of the game. Leonard has a career 76% win percentage when he plays compared to Giannis’ 42%. You could attribute this to Leonard playing on some great Spurs teams with the likes of Gregg Popovich, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Tim Duncan, and Giannis playing on teams with Jason Kidd, Joe Prunty, and Michael Carter-Williams. But still you can’t ignore the fact that when Kawhi plays, his team more often than not wins. And this isn’t just in the regular season, as Leonard has seen success in the playoffs from his Finals MVP and championship run in 2014 against James and the Miami Heat. Leonard will hope to continue his winning pedigree in Toronto and so far he is off to a good start.

Verdict

While Kawhi has seen more success in this league in terms of winning I can’t look past the fact of the teams that he was playing for. He has played with so far in his career arguably one of the greatest coaches in history in Popovich, and has also played with many all stars including Duncan, Aldridge, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. Giannis has not played with one fellow all-star yet, and has played under coaches in Kidd and Prunty with systems that almost set the Bucks up to fail on a nightly basis. We can’t escape the feeling that putting Giannis on those Spurs teams, they may very well up winning more than one championship. With the Bucks having an actual established coach in Mike Budenholzer for the first time in Antetokounmpo’s career, and continued improvement from guys like Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe, expect Antetokounmpo to take the reigns as the new king of the Eastern conference.

All stats taken from basketball-reference.com

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