It was praise of the highest order when former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Larry Drew compared the Clippers tandem of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to the distinguished Chicago Bulls combo of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
But Drew did utter those words.
Not because of accomplishments, of course, since few compare to Jordan and Pippen. They stand in rarefied air, having been the central figures in the Bulls’ six NBA championships during the 1990s.
Jordan and Pippen were versatile wing players, and Drew sees similarities between them and the skills Leonard and George possess controlling similar positions.
“You’re talking about two guys like Kawhi and Paul that can play the same position, basically do a lot of the same things,” Drew said. “Both Michael and Scottie, they played the same position, but because they were so versatile, they were able to move around to other positions as well.
“I think both Kawhi and PG can do the same thing. Those versatile guys that can play more than one position, not only play more than one position, they can defend more than one position. They are very valuable, extremely valuable.”
Jordan and Pippen are in the Hall of Fame, with Jordan recognized as the best to have played the game, owner of five NBA most-valuable-player awards.
While Drew might have been one of the few to make such a lofty comparison, others such as Mark Jackson and Mike Malone understand Leonard’s and George’s greatness.
Leonard and George are considered to be among the league’s top 10 players.
Leonard is coming off a season in which he guided the Toronto Raptors to the NBA championship, earning Finals MVP for the second time. He won his first with San Antonio in 2014.
Both are long and athletic, with Leonard standing 6 feet 7 with a 7-3 wingspan and George at 6-9 with a 6-11 wingspan.
“Both guys are incredible on both sides of the floor and they give the Clippers great versatility,” said Jackson, a Hall of Fame point guard and former NBA coach who is now an analyst for ESPN. “I think it takes pressure off each of them. Both guys have ball skills, whether it be isolation or pick-and-roll. Both guys are unselfish. In atime where you need versatile wing players to be successful and to have long runs, these are two of thebest, not just in the game, but to ever do it.”
Over the course of his eight seasons in the NBA, Leonard has piled up accolades.
He’s made the league’s all-defensive team five times, been a two-time defensive player of the year and made the All-NBA team three times.
He averaged career highs in points (26.6), rebounds (7.3) and assists (3.3) last season in Toronto. He averaged 30.5 points in the playoffs, third best in NBA history.
During his nine seasons in the NBA, George has also received many honors. He’s a six-time All-Star, has been named to the All-NBA team five times and All-NBA defensive team four times.
He averaged career highs in points (28, second in the NBA), rebounds (8.2) and steals (2.2, first in the NBA), and tied his career high in assists (4.1) last season with Oklahoma City when he was an MVP candidate.
Leonard arrived with the Clippers via the free-agent route, signing a three-year, $103-million deal, while George arrived in a trade from the Thunder.
Once George returns to play sometime in November following his recovery from surgery on both shoulders, he and Leonard will give the Clippers a most dynamic of duos.
“Obviously, Kawhi and Paul George, those guys together when they are healthy will definitelybe one of the scarier tandems in the NBA,” said Malone, who guided the Nuggets to the second-best record in the West last season. “They can guard multiple positions and on offense they can both get their own shots. So what do great players do? They create their own shots, they draw double teams and they make plays for their teammates.”