Portland Trail Blazers: Why Meyers Leonard lost his Backup Role

Oct 16, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Enes Kanter (0) is defended by Portland Trail Blazers center Meyers Leonard (11) during the second quarter of their NBA basketball game at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jim Urquhart-USA TODAY Sports

Ahh, Meyers Leonard…  The player whose defense is so offensive, defending it is indefensible. I had tried my damnedest to keep people aboard the Leonard train, but it seems even Terry Stotts wants off at the next station. After playing Leonard for just three minutes against the Golden State Warriors in favor of Joel Freeland, Stotts made the decision to officially bump Leonard to third string.

Meyers Leonard is a gifted offensive player, but, as a lover of statistics, I’ve noticed something rather unnerving about his preseason campaign. In 85 minutes and 16 seconds of playing time, over the course of six games, Meyers Leonard did not register a single block or steal. Think about that. Those are the only positive, measurable, defensive statistics. How is it possible for a 7’0” tall, highly athletic center to go an hour and a half without notching one in either category?

Now, Joel Freeland isn’t exactly a darling in the analytics either. Leonard’s 57.9% field goal percentage dwarfs Freeland’s 34.2%, but at least his contributions on the defensive end register. Freeland averaged 0.7 blocks per game and even snuck a solitary steal into his statline against the Clippers on October 18th. What the stats won’t tell you is that Freeland is actually protecting the rim very well. LaMarcus Aldridge needs a post partner that will affect shots and, when Robin Lopez sits, it’s not Meyers Leonard.

For an accurate statistical comparison, let’s look at the preseason per 36 minute metric for Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland. Since the Blazers are primarily concerned with defense from their backup center, that’s what we’ll examine. I’ll even throw in rebounds, because hey, boxing out is important.

Preseason per 36 minutes:

Meyers Leonard: 8.1 rebounds 0.0 steals 0.0 blocks 6.3 personal fouls
Joel Freeland 11.1 rebounds 0.3 steals 1.4 blocks 3.4 personal fouls

Aside from Leonard’s aforementioned lack of blocks and steals, you should be noticing a gargantuan red flag. If Meyers Leonard played starting minutes he would foul out every game. The bane of his rookie season has followed him into his sophomore year.

It’s not that Leonard is a bad player, he’s just one-sided on the wrong side of the ball. The Blazers need interior defense, but his specialty is efficient scoring. He doesn’t fit. Freeland, on the other hand, has drawn comparisons to Nick Collison of the Oklahoma City Thunder since opting out of FIBA Eurobasket to focus on training for Portland. He sets hard picks, protects the rim well, and can edge out competing rebounders. Until Meyers Leonard can bring his defensive game up to Joel Freeland’s newly reached level, he will remain the Blazers’ third option at the center position.

Topics: Joel Freeland, Meyers Leonard, Portland Trail Blazers, Preseason

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