The 2012 NBA Draft has turned into a small gold mine for the Portland Trail Blazers. With the sixth overall pick, the Trail Blazers selected a point guard from Weber State who many thought would be a later draft pick. Damian Lillard has proven everyone wrong who ever doubted his talent and NBA readiness. He is a bright young star in the league and is definitely in discussions as a Top 10 point guard. Will Barton, who was selected in the second round and 40th overall, has started to take shape as a serviceable reserve player. He has shown flashes of brilliance and brings a burst of energy to the team and the crowd. The success of Lillard and Barton is where the gold stopped flowing for the Trail Blazers.
With the 11th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Trail Blazers selected Meyers Leonard. Leonard had just finished up his sophomore year at Illinois and declared for the NBA Draft. He was named Honorable Mention All Big-10 at the end of his sophomore season after averaging 13.6 points and 8.2 rebounds. Athletic big men do not come around that often and the Trail Blazers saw potential in Leonard. Sure he was young, raw, and clumsy but the Trail Blazers front office liked what they saw in their crystal ball.
Ever since Leonard joined the Trail Blazers, he has been viewed as a project. Could the coaching staff turn this athletic 7-1, 245 lbs big man into a effective NBA center? The common answer among fans is “no,” while some might say the jury is still out on Leonard’s future. Does Leonard have a future in Portland or should the Trail Blazers move on?
Leonard played in his first 2014 Las Vegas Summer League game on Tuesday. He missed the previous two games due to a shoulder strain. He racked up 21 minutes of playing time, which was the least among the starters. The Trail Blazers committed 23 fouls as a team but Leonard had seven all by himself. He was 3-6 from the field for seven points and didn’t corral a single rebound. Not great numbers from a first-round draft pick with two years experience.
After two years of practice, work outs, summer league, and regular season playing time, how is Leonard still not contributing? Leonard has everything going for him: athletic, tall, strong, and a decent shooter for his position. Why is it such a struggle for him to put it all together on the court? To deem Leonard a successful project seems to be a long way off.
It’s understandable why the Trail Blazers have held on to Leonard this long. He has an expiring contract next summer and can be used as a bargaining chip. Yet at this point, is he really considered an asset? If the Trail Blazers tried to deal Leonard right now, they would probably not receive much interest. It’s difficult to swallow but they must stay the course.
Leonard has put in the time and the work needed to succeed. The Trail Blazers must find a way to help him put it all together and play within himself. He is young and has all of the right attributes on paper. This is the most important summer of his career and he knows it. Only time will tell how the Meyers Leonard project unfolds.