Nov 1, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Portland Trail Blazers center Meyers Leonard (11) stretches before the start of the game against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Meyers Leonard Showing Signs of Improvement


 

Meyers Leonard is perhaps Portland’s most intriguing enigma, right after Thomas Robinson, whom he has recently supplanted in Terry Stotts’ 9-man rotation. Despite incredible physical tools, the  7’1” backup center has been somehow less than the sum of his parts. If you’ve watched Leonard spend an exorbitant amount of time practicing his 3-point shot instead of his post-moves during warm-ups, you have a good idea why.

He doesn’t play like a center. Big men that shoot from further out are only assets if their range accompanies the traditional skill-set. Otherwise, they might as well be clumsier guards with significantly worse ball handling. After Leonard’s early struggles this season, I thought he fit that bill to a tee, but he’s shown some sneaky improvement that has gone largely unnoticed in limited minutes.

The time he spends on the court has been more than chopped in half since last season, but his production hasn’t. Losing 9 minutes of playing time season-to-season has only cost him 0.6 rebounds per game. He now averages 3.1 rebounds instead of 3.7. Big whoop, right? Well, maybe, but the increased rebounding rate makes him a much more palatable option at center. He’s beginning to focus his efforts where he should.

For perspective, last season he hauled in a paltry 7.6 rebounds per 36 minutes of play (unremarkable for any center, much less a 7-footer), but that number has spiked to 13.1 this year. The per 36 metric is more for illustration than science, but you can see why I’m fascinated. If he targets the proper developmental niche, he could still be worth his roster slot.

Since rejoining Terry Stotts’ preferred rotation 3 games ago, Meyers Leonard has averaged 5.33 rebounds in under 13 minutes of playing time per game. Leonard is about as polished as pumice, otherwise, but I appreciate that Stotts has elected to build his confidence. Giving him a well defined role that he is naturally designed to excel at may be just what Leonard needs to get his gargantuan feet under him.

I’ll be much more forgiving of his shooting quirks if he can continue contributing more inside. His range is not at all a bad thing, but I’d rather see him wrestle for rebounds. Though, I am warming to the idea of playing him at power forward and exploiting the nearly guaranteed 3”-5” height advantage in his favor. We’ve seen how LaMarcus Aldridge matches up at 6’11” (granted, with much more talent and experience), and the prospect of relieving him with an even taller power forward is attractive.

I’m not ready to declare “bust” on Portland’s 11th overall pick of 2012 yet. It’s easy to watch him fumble the ball like he sweats butter, or foul at times that would make Mario Chalmers shake his head, but those aren’t new problems. His rebounding is a new improvement. We’d all rather he make necessary strides simultaneously, but one at a time is better than none at a time. For now, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.

 

 

Tags: Meyers Leonard Portland Trail Blazers Terry Stotts

  • blazerfan808

    I’m was pleased with his performance against the heat. he is gonna make mistakes, that is what rookies do, esp 21 year old bigs. he did a lot of awesome, surprising things in the game. he will continue to improve and soon we won’t remember why we were so hard on him.

    can someone outside the top 6 really be considered a bust? up until what point in the draft should we expect a starter?

    • David MacKay

      I would say so. It’s not necessarily about starting. Up until this point, he’s been very disappointing as a bench player. The 11th pick of any draft class should be serviceable at a minimum, regardless of where they fit in rotation. He’s getting there, though. I think people forget that even though he’s no longer a rookie, he’s still the youngest on the team alongside Allen Crabbe at 21. He needs time.

      • FluxAdvisor.com

        Based on what parameters has he been disappointing as a bench player?

        Look at any first or second year center and they all have major deficincies on either side of the ball..
        Leonard is not unique he is just young… You can’t expect the same development curve from guards and big men, nor can you expect the same nba readiness..

        As long as he continues to display the same willingness to work and build he deserves minutes and is right on track

        • Draftdog

          I agree, but he needs minutes to develop.

  • Draftdog

    I think Meyers development has been deeply damaged by the coaching, or lack of coaching and by his treatment by Stotts. I had a lot more to say, but after reading it I decided it sounded like a rant. As I have expressed before Stotts is not on my Christmas list!

    • David MacKay

      Despite the added depth this year, Stotts seems to be severely limiting the bench. It has it’s benefits, but I cannot argue that his occasional neglect isn’t problematic for development.

      • Draftdog

        Not to mention injury and burn out.

    • FluxAdvisor.com

      Yea? You don’t like our coach that has lead us to one of the best records in the league?

      Did you think the Blazers are winning all of these games on talent alone? Or do you realize its due to execution of Stott’s system?

      • Draftdog

        You’re right, I don’t, and I think any decent coach would find himself with approximately the same W-L record right now, but there would be the added benefits of an experienced bench, player development, and starters that wouldn’t be dragging their butts across the finish line and into the playoffs. Yes, Stotts knows how to win games, but he is short sighted with tunnel vision.

  • Pingback: Terry Stotts, Bring Back Thomas Robinson

  • FluxAdvisor.com

    So you requested Thom Rob back today right after writing this???

    Terrible assessment of the Blazers second units needs… Leonards net positive on offense clearly outweighs their equally bad defense.. Not to mention Leonards further development is much more valuable then Robinson’s..