ESPN predicts Kawhi Leonard will win 2017-18 MVP award

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It will be the Year of Kawhi Leonard, at least according to ESPN.

ESPN's Tom Haberstroh and Mark Titus' statistical deep dive into the 2017-18 MVP race included nine factors consistent with previous award winners. Their findings limited the list to 20 players qualified for the award.

The criteria for the award is as follows:

  • Selected 15th or higher in the NBA Draft
  • Top four finish in MVP voting
  • Vegas projections
  • Win shares per 48 minutes, at least 0.20
  • Player Efficiency Rating threshold, at least 24.0
  • Voter fatigue, applies to previous MVP winners
  • Top four in MVP voting in the year before
  • Prime of their career, between 24-30 years old
  • Can’t split vote with teammates

And here's Leonard's case for the 2017-18 MVP award based on the above criteria:

  • He was selected with the 15th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. Check.
  • He finished second in 2016 MVP voting and third in last year's voting. Check.
  • His .314 win shares per 48 minutes mark last season led the entire league. Check.
  • His 31.6 Player Efficiency Rating also led the league last year. Check.
  • He has never won the MVP award, meaning the voter fatigue disqualifier does not apply to him. Check.
  • He finished third in MVP voting last season. Check.
  • He is 26 years old entering this season, putting him right smack dab in the middle of his basketball prime. Check.
  • He does not have a teammate on the roster who has finished top four in MVP voting. Check.

Leonard checks eight of the nine boxes off, more than any other player in the league, giving him the nod for ESPN's analytically-based choice for the award. He averaged 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season for a 61-win Spurs team that claimed the second seed in the Western Conference.

If history is any indication, Leonard is in a good position to win his first MVP award of his career. The honor would place him in an exclusive club -- Tim Duncan and David Robinson are the only Spurs in franchise history to win the Most Valuable Player award.

Golden State forward Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets guard James Harden and New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis rounded out the top five choices for this year's MVP award.

LaMarcus Aldridge fulfilled two of the nine categories in ESPN's criteria.

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