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Kawhi Leonard is a Top 5 MVP candidate this upcoming season, according to ESPN

The publication has projected Kawhi Leonard to regain his MVP-level form.

New Orleans Pelicans v LA Clippers - Play-In Tournament Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

Kawhi Leonard has not played in an NBA game since June 14, 2021. But that hasn’t stopped the expert panel at ESPN from predicting a big year for the LA Clippers superstar. In fact, they think he possibly could be in the thick of the MVP race.

In their latest projection series, Leonard came in tied for fifth amongst players that the panel thinks could potentially win MVP this season.

It was an interesting top five (err, six) considering the top player was Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. Antetokounmpo, who has two MVP awards already to his name, received 33.3% of the first-place votes.

There was a tie for second between Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks) and Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers). Each player received 40 points in the polling process. The Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry, the reigning Finals MVP, was fourth with 14 points.

Leonard finished tied for fifth with Memphis Grizzlies wunderkind Ja Morant. The pair slotted in right above back-to-back MVP winner Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets) and Boston Celtics superstar Jayson Tatum.

In all honesty, it seems a tad hard to believe that Leonard, 31, would win an MVP award in his first season back after partially tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament. Leonard missed all of the 2021-22 season due to surgery and recovery.

Should Leonard actually win the award, he would become the first player in Clippers history to win MVP, but not the first player in franchise history. Bob McAdoo won the 1974-75 MVP award for the Buffalo Braves.

In 2020-21, Leonard averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists on 51.2% shooting. The Clippers were 36-16 (.692) in the 52 games that Leonard suited up for, which comes out to a 57-win pace over an entire 82-game season. However, don’t expect Leonard to play all 82 games this season. Instead, Leonard will likely be limited to around 60-65 games as the Clippers attempt to manage his wear and tear.

Either way, Leonard could put together an incredible season, and if the Clippers have the wins necessary to propel him into the MVP discussion, the veteran forward has a chance to bring home the trophy.

You can find Justin Russo’s daily content on the LA Clippers by subscribing to his Patreon feed, and you can also follow him on Twitter at @FlyByKnite.