Every season that Meyers Leonard spends on the bench behind a more capable center, we pose the same optimistic question: “What can Leonard learn from ‘Player X’?” His rookie campaign, he played behind J.J. Hickson. His sophomore outing, he played behind Robin Lopez. Both times the number one answer to the question was supposed to be “rebounding,” but any perceived lessons have yet to be fruitful.
This year, Chris Kaman is in the mix. In the scope of playing time, Kaman’s presence in Portland poses an enormous detriment to Leonard’s development. However; it is not as if Leonard is suddenly dropping from massive minutes to nothing at all. His playing time will diminish, sure, but perhaps his practice time will become more valuable.
Kaman and Leonard have been training together this offseason. For the first time, Leonard has a teammate to learn from that actually plays a similar game—just better. Kaman will not impart an untold wealth of knowledge in the defensive department, and he is not an especially active rebounder, but instead of possessing the tools to patch Leonard’s game, he may possess the tools to augment Leonard’s existing aptitude.
— Chris Kaman (@ChrisKaman) August 1, 2014
Kaman is a gifted scorer, both at the rim and from mid-range. He gets the same type of looks that Leonard does, but he knows what to do when he gets the ball. He uses his size and high-level footwork to create scoring opportunities close to the basket, and does not hesitate to pull the trigger on open jumpers. Take a look at Kaman’s best game from last season:
These are skills that Leonard can build into his repertoire without leaving his comfort zone as a predominantly shooting center. This is not to say that he should abandon improving his weaknesses, just that bolstering his strengths is the logical first step in becoming serviceable. An incomplete player can still hold value as a specialist, and that is a more attainable goal for him, given his shrinking role on the team.
Yet, there is also the possibility that practicing with Kaman yields a few surprises. While Kaman is not the man to give defensive pointers, Leonard may improve his defense along the way by simple virtue of defending such an experienced and large-bodied scorer. Under the ideal circumstances, Leonard could shore up his defense to an acceptable level while simultaneously cementing himself as a more viable scoring option on the other end.
Although none of this is likely to result in significant playing time, it is still hugely important. Portland was incredibly fortunate on the injury front last season, and the 32 year old Kaman has been known to miss games with nagging physical ailments. The Trail Blazers need Leonard to be adequate in case of emergency. Practicing with Kaman may be just what Leonard needs to reach this mark.