San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard is coming off a breakout year as he averaged a career-high 25.5 PPG on 48% shooting, as well as 5.8 RPG and 3.5 APG during the 2016-17 NBA season. Despite his offensive explosion, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year maintained his status as arguably the best perimeter defender in the game.

His development into a two-way superstar has been fascinating to watch over the past two years. But the Spurs star is far from done because this will be the year when ‘the Klaw’ finally reaches his full potential. Leonard, who finished runner-up to Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook in the last two MVP races, enters into the 2017-18 NBA season with high expectations of winning the league’s most coveted individual award.

Legends like Leonard’s chances

During an NBA ‘Open Court’ episode, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Isiah Thomas, Dennis Johnson and Kevin McHale weighed in on potential MVP contenders for this year, and unsurprisingly, the legends picked the usual frontrunners.

Charles Barkley apparently is still high on Houston Rockets’ guard James Harden after putting up historic numbers (29.1 PPG on 44% shooting, with 11.2 APG and 8.1 RPG) last season. McHale showed a bit of favoritism by picking Boston Celtic Kyrie Irving as a darkhorse candidate. On the other hand, Johnson, Thomas and O’Neal all picked Leonard as the eventual winner of the race. They have different reasons why the Spurs star will win the regular-season MVP, though all agreed on one thing - Kawhi has something to prove this year.

“He has something to prove. I think he has been working on his game all summer. He’s going to take it up a notch more. I think the Spurs are going to be problem once again in the West. I am going with Kawhi Leonard,” said O’Neal, a one-time NBA reg-season MVP.

Where are the last four winners?

The most surprising part about this particular open forum discussion is not one of the legends mentioned of the last four winners of the award: Russell Westbrook (2017), Stephen Curry (2015, 2016) and Kevin Durant (2014) as possible candidates.

The criteria for NBA regular-season MVP is vague, thought the award usually ends up with the player who had the best statistical season. Last year, Westbrook was a one-man triple-double machine (31.6 PPG, 10.7 RPG and 10.4 APG) on a team that lost Durant to free agency. The dynamic guard isn’t expected to carry the load this year following the arrival of All-Stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in Oklahoma City. The Golden State duo meanwhile will put up MVP-type of numbers, but both will fall short in the MVP voting because they play on a Super Team.