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- Measurables: 7-foot-1, 245 pounds, sophomore center from Illinois
- Key Stats: 13.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.9 blocks per game, 58 percent shooting
- Projected: Late lottery/mid-first
- Hickory High Similarity Score
Why I’m intrigued by this guy
I have no problem saying that I think the NCAA is lame. Even lamer, are mouth breathers in the media who think they are equipped to say when a college kid should or should not go pro. I’m not going to do that here. Meyers Leonard is an intriguing prospect because he’s big and athletic and young, even if he’s the type of player who might elicit “he should’ve stayed in school” type of reactions. I think most NBA teams would like to see a prospect like Leonard stay in school, simply because he’s kind of an unknown right now. Playing on a team that under-performed, for a coaching staff that was lame duck most of the season at Illinois as most knew sometime around mid-season that Bruce Weber wouldn’t be back, Leonard didn’t have overly impressive numbers or dominance to match his physical tools. Selfishly, NBA teams like to see players like that stay in school so they can either excel and build their stock or, more likely, get exposed and see their stock fall.
The player, in this case Leonard, is a first round pick right now, which means a guaranteed NBA contract, so going pro for him is a good decision. For me, guy who watches some college basketball and tries to assess prospects’ fits with the Pistons, it is hard for me to tell how equipped Leonard is for the NBA, even if physically, he looks like he can be a solid or better NBA player.
Pros for the Pistons
The Pistons need size, defense and athleticism, and Leonard possesses those traits. He blocked about two shots per game for Illinois and could be a good rim-protecting presence as a pro.
Leonard was inconsistent at Illinois, but one of the things that suggests he has some untapped potential is he’s late to the frontcourt game. He was a guard most of his basketball career until a late growth spurt saw him shoot up to above seven feet tall. He still moves like a guard at times, he has a face up game and he’s pretty athletic. If he’s the player the Pistons end up with, I expect that he’ll make contributions in a reserve role. He’s probably not the immediate impact player that they could use, but I’m confident he might be able to help with proper development.
The good news for the Pistons is that his biggest weakness is offense. With Greg Monroe shouldering most of the load offensively in the post, that’s less of a concern for them than it might be for other teams.
Cons for the Pistons
He still needs to add strength if he’s going to become a big minutes post presence. Leonard was also pretty inconsistent at Illinois. Now, that can be explained away by the tumultuous environment he was playing in, but this season Lawrence Frank didn’t show much patience for the few players on Detroit’s roster whose energy waned significantly at times. Austin Daye is a perfect example — his confidence was down at the beginning of the season, his production suffered and he quickly got buried on the bench. Leonard and Daye are different players, but he did have some spells this season where he wasn’t as assertive or aggressive as he could’ve been, and I’m not sure how much patience Frank would have if that continued in the NBA.
What others are saying
While Leonard’s play this season has been a revelation, he’s doing it on a team that’s been in a tailspin for the past month and half. Illinois beat Ohio State on Jan. 10 and since then has lost 11 of 13.
Leonard has been solid in many of those games. But he’s disappeared in plenty as well. Teams love his combination of size and athleticism. But is he ready for the NBA? He still needs serious polish in the low post, and his lack of focus concerns scouts.
As we’ve mentioned before, Leonard’s physical tools make him a rare and very intriguing prospect defensively, especially as his frame continues to fill out. He did a better job denying deep post position this season and generally displayed a good effort level, which combined with his size and length, makes him an effective one-on-one defender on the interior, as players have trouble scoring over the top of him.
His excellent agility for a player his size should also help him defending pick-and-roll sets, giving him the ability to hedge and recover quickly. A big key for him defensively will likely the mental side of things and how well he can focus and bring consistent energy on each possession and pick up on team defensive concepts.
Leonard is a very nice prospect for the center position in the NBA … Has really blossomed in his sophomore year and is just hitting his stride and was not a big factor in his freshman season … There really aren’t a lot of weaknesses in his game … He should look to establish an offensive identity and continue to polish his all-around game … With his potential, he’s sure to get some looks in the lottery.
His game is not entirely ready for the NBA, but his body is. His heart would love to remain a college kid, “stay a kid a little longer” as he says, but the responsibilities of his life — an ailing mother, a brother in Afghanistan — dictate a more mature path. He still misses home. His town, population dwindling and worn down by a worn-out economy, needs a hero. He wants his college degree, but his family needs the paycheck. It is a pack mule’s burden borne by a man-child, heavy enough to topple most people. That’s where those shoulders come in. They don’t belong to most people. Meyers Leonard is a lot of things — talented and stubborn, smart and starved for praise. Above all, he is responsible. “I want to be a kid for as long as I can be,” he said. “But there’s a lot on my shoulders. My mom is in a lot of pain. My brother is overseas. All of these people, these fans, they want us to be good. People ask me if I’m going to the NBA. There’s just a lot of stuff right now.”
(Seriously, read that ESPN.com story, it’s great)
What is the best thing Meyers Leonard does for his team?
Jeff Kirsman (follow him on Twitter) is the sports editor for The Daily Illini, Illinois’ student newspaper, and Max Tane (follow him on Twitter) is the assistant sports editor (this is a combined effort by them):
One question looms more than others when measuring Meyers Leonard’s NBA potential: What can prospective NBA suitors expect from Leonard when the seven-footer couldn’t even muster a double-double last season while facing opponents the majority of which were shorter than him?
It’s difficult to gauge Leonard’s draft potential due to the inadequacy of his supporting cast and now-fired head coach in Bruce Weber, though to say he is anything more than a project would do a disservice to any team’s scouting report. You can’t teach tall or athleticism, which Meyers brings to the table in spades, but it wouldn’t be unimaginable for Leonard to admit that an at-home situation involving a sickly mother, deceased father and brother in the marines – rather than his capability to bang bodies with the likes of Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum – factoring into his decision to forgo his last two years of eligibility. He is not ready for the NBA.
Whichever team does draft Leonard, however, will receive a player who was the best player on the floor for the Illini when fed the ball consistently. He has an outstanding motor on both ends of the floor, which was shown throughout the season as he got the best of big men like Robert Sacre and Jared Sullinger (twice). He hasn’t filled into his frame, partly because of an Anthony Davis-like growth spurt he experienced in high school. He developed plenty of guard skills before he hit seven feet and has the potential to be a more productive version of Javale McGee.
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