Kawhi Leonard already has decorations for his mantle: a championship ring, an NBA Finals MVP Award and an NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. Yet the Spurs forward already is clearing out space for his next trinket, the Maurice Podoloff Trophy given to the NBA MVP. At a youth basketball camp last week, Leonard told told The (Riverside, Calif.) Press Enterprise, “I want to to be an All-Star and MVP of the regular season. I’m trying to be one of the greatest players so whatever level that consists of is where I want to take my game.”

Leonard's aspirations are entirely reasonable. He is already one of the best all-around players in the league and, at 24 years old, he's still a few seasons from his prime. By Basketball-Reference's Box Plus-Minus, an overall estimate of a player's impact per 100 possessions, Leonard's performance last season already compares reasonably to the players who have won MVP over the past two decades.

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Leonard is a tier below the peak performance levels of players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. In addition, a player's box score statistics only explain about half of the variation in MVP voting, with the rest likely explained by how compelling voters find each player's individual narrative. Still, this chart seems to demonstrate that Leonard would have the statistical credentials to at least get past the gates and enter the conversation.

However, there is a quirk to his past performance that makes him an extremely unlikely MVP candidate.

Leonard is an exceptional defensive player but his play at that end outpaces his offensive performance. If we split Box Plus-Minus into its offensive and defensive components, comparing Leonard last season to the previous 20 MVP seasons, we see that he would be only the third MVP (following Tim Duncan in 2002-03 and Kevin Garnett in 2003-04) in the last two decades to contribute more on defense than on offense.

For the vast majority of MVPs, the balance wasn't even close.

One of the issues here is that the league has an award to recognize the best defensive player in the league but no such award for the best offensive player in the league. This may be one of the reasons that the MVP award has so often resembled a race to be the league's most productive offensive player.

This is not to say that Leonard is a bad offensive player; he is a very a good one, but in this sort of race, he's at an extreme disadvantage. His offensive strengths — efficiency and versatility — are not as readily apparent because he plays a narrower role for the Spurs than many of the league's other top scorers. Leonard finished 35th in points per game last season, in part because he finished 44th in field goal attempts per game. If we compare him to the rest of the MVPs of the past two decades by quantity and quality of offensive production, his outlier status is highlighted.

To measure quantity here, I'm using possessions used per game (field goal attempts, turnovers and trips to the free-throw line) added to assists per game. Traditional usage rate doesn't include assists, and thus we'd see Steve Nash's offensive involvement looking simlar to Leonard's. That would be a laughable misrepresentation. There is a huge gap between Leonard and the rest of the field. He simply does not have as large a role on offense as the NBA MVP typically rewards.

Last season, Leonard's production was every bit as good as several players who have won MVP awards. There is no disputing that were he to replicate that level of performance, he would belong in the conversation. The difference is, he contributes in ways that are slightly more subtle. He doesn't look like a typical MVP because he's so good defensively and has individual offensive skills are not what drives his team's system. If Leonard is serious about winning an MVP, he will likely need to increase the quality and, more importantly, the quantity of his offensive production.

That may be difficult in San Antonio. 

Over the past decade, the Spurs have only had a player average more than 15 field goal attempts per game four times. Their system is about sharing the ball and finding the open man, and Duncan's MVP seasons reflect the end of the era where a single player carried the weight of their offense. Unlike Duncan, Leonard will not have big rebounding and shot-blocking totals helping him along, and wing players tend to be held to even higher standards in MVP balloting.

That means Leonard will have to run

the offense a lot more often, as he did at times down the stretch last season. Spurs point guard Tony Parker's health led to some of that, but Leonard's development as a ballhandler and shot-creator also were obvious. He certainly has the skill for that increased role. The question is whether it makes sense for the team. In addition, the Spurs have added LaMarcus Aldridge, another scoring talent who may command a larger share of the offense.

Leonard is 24 years old, meaning he should be even better next season and perhaps he will follow in the footsteps of Duncan and Garnett — playing defense that is too dominant to ignore and redefining our idea of what a  most valuable player looks like. However, the most likely path to individual recognition is simply by taking more shots. The paradox then is that becoming MVP may mean sacrificing a system and taking away some of what has made him and his team so special.

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