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- Measurables: 6-foot-8, 209 pounds, sophomore forward from NC State
- Key Stats: 14.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.6 blocks per game, 53 percent shooting, 29 percent 3-point shooting
- Projected: Late first round to early second round
Why he is intriguing
Leslie is a freak of an athlete who is capable of displaying boundless energy and impacting the stat sheet in a variety of ways. He’s also still prone to the immaturity of youth, though. As a prized high school recruit, he de-committed from NC State before eventually re-committing. Last year, he also decided for some reason that it would be a good idea to post his anti-gay thoughts publicly on Twitter. Note to athletes: that probably won’t end well.
Leslie’s tantalizing size and athleticism will surely make NBA teams fall in love with him. But his perimeter game, which is still in need of some refinement, might push him into being a second round pick despite having first round athleticism.
Pros for the Pistons
Like yesterday’s prospect, Darius Miller, Leslie fulfills a need for the Pistons: speed and athleticism on the perimeter. But while Miller’s next level skills are pretty defined — he’ll provide shooting, passing and play hard — Leslie is more hard to quantify.
He’s a good rebounder for a wing player. He’s lanky and athletic and blocks shots. He has the physical tools to become a good defensive player. He is capable of playing with boundless energy, he’s one of the best in the country at running the floor and he finishes well. Although he plays some in the post at NC State, he also has the necessary ball-handling skills to play most of his minutes at the three as a pro. All of those skills are certainly things the Pistons could use.
Cons for the Pistons
Unlike Miller, Leslie doesn’t add a floor-stretching presence. With Austin Daye‘s shot off all year and the futures of Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon uncertain, the Pistons could use more shooters to take pressure off of Greg Monroe if he’s doubled in the post and help open more driving lanes for Rodney Stuckey. It’s easy to envision Leslie finishing off great passes from either of those players, but as a 29 percent 3-point shooter, it’s also easy to see his defenders sagging off of him to give extra help on Stuckey or Monroe.
Also, though he’s not quite as frail as Daye was coming out of college, Leslie needs to get significantly stronger if he’s going to hold his own defensively against some of the stronger wing players in the league. He’s also more of a hybrid forward, a role the Pistons already have filled with Jonas Jerebko. He, like Jerebko, might be most effective switching back and forth between forward spots depending on matchups. The Pistons could really use a player who could become a permanent fixture at SF and possibly push Tayshaun Prince for the starting spot down the road. Leslie could be that player, but he might not be skilled enough offensively to be only a SF at this point. He’s also a bad free throw shooter at 59 percent.
What others are saying
Leslie came out of high school with a checkered rep. He was regarded as one of the most athletic prospects in his class. But his attitude and indifference on the court raised eyebrows. As a freshman he showed both his potential and his potholes. As a sophomore, Leslie has made major strides in his game and in his consistency.
For two straight games in the tournament, against San Diego State and Georgetown (and along with some stellar play in the ACC tournament against North Carolina and Virginia), Leslie carried the Wolfpack and now has them in the Sweet 16. Scouts love Leslie’s length and athletic ability. But it’s his newfound toughness and aggressiveness on the court that’s led to them warming up quickly to him. Leslie still is a work in progress, but virtually every general manager I spoke with this weekend had him ranked somewhere in the late-teens to the 20s on their boards.
Possessing all the physical tools necessary to be successful on that end of the floor, Leslie would benefit from playing a role that would allow him to capitalize on his athleticism in transition while affording him a chance to develop a comfort level as a face-up scorer from the midrange.
Defensively, Leslie is limited to some degree by his lack of bulk, but is mostly inhibited by his inconsistent motor. By no means is he an incapable defender, as he’s been terrific for stretches, using his length to block shots at the rim and his quickness to deny dribble penetration, but he has not consistently competed with an intensity that let him get the most out of his abilities.
He also has the ability to put the ball on the floor and take his man off the dribble from about the foul line extended, and can finish strong around the rim in a variety of different ways … Shows the potential to develop a jump shot, but still has a ways to go before it becomes a weapon … He runs the floor well for a 6’9 forward and is an easy and big target on the break for his point guard as he can get up and catch anything around the basket … All the tools to be a great shotblocker on and off the ball … High motor guy who brings energy and explosiveness that can liven up his team and the crowd
Gottfried told reporters Saturday that he refuses to call Leslie “C.J.” because of the criticism he heard about the 6-foot-8 forward after he seized control of the program. He calls him by his first name, Calvin.
“When I took this job, every time I turned around somebody was making a negative comment about C.J. Leslie: Doesn’t play hard. He’s disinterested. You’re not going to be able to reach him,” Gottfried said prior to his team’s win over Georgetown. “So my thing was it’s time for a change. It’s time for you to have a fresh start. So for me we’ll change your name.”
Leslie said Gottfried focused on the strengths of every player on the roster and implemented them within his system. That approach helped players cling to Gottfried.
“He did a good job of just knowing everybody [personally]. That’s the start of it. Just getting to know everybody and what they can do best,” Leslie said during Saturday’s media session.
Leslie has faced plenty of adversity at N.C. State, from dealing with various suspensions to handling the constant questioning of his maturity and effort. Yow earned his trust by continuing to support him through times good and bad.
“I think he has an innate sense of how much I care about him as a person,” Yow said.
What is the best thing C.J. Leslie does for his team?
C.J. Leslie is an absolute phenom from a shear athletic standpoint. His greatest strength is the ability to make those “wow” plays — whether it’s his lightning-quick drop-step, an offensive putback in traffic, or a blocked shot from seemingly out of nowhere. He showed a budding post-up game as a sophomore, but he won’t have the luxury of being guarded by power forwards in the NBA. He has the God-given tools to enjoy a long career in the league, but lingering commitment and focus concerns will scare some front offices away.
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