What can Meyers Leonard do with more minutes?


With so much of the Portland Trail Blazers’ roster in flux during the upcoming off-season, one player who we know will still be around is the rapidly-developing Meyers Leonard. Leonard represents an interesting case study in a young big starting to make it in the pros, whose slow development has chugged along until his mini “breakout” this past season.

Breakout is being used very loosely, here, but I think the consensus has clearly reached the point where Leonard is regarded as a valuable, positive asset to the team, rather than a liability on the court. With last off-season’s addition of Chris Kaman, though, Leonard was not really given many opportunities to demonstrate his abilities until injuries forced Head Coach Terry Stotts’ hand.

On a quick tangent, this development of young players is something that I think needs to be considered when looking at Stotts. Oftentimes, it appears as if he is unwilling to play younger players, opting instead for veterans.

There are a couple of ways to look at this. One on hand, an NBA coach’s one job is to win. Naturally, veteran players likely give Stotts a better chance to win, so it’s hard to fault him for that. With that being said, sustained team success comes through internal development of players. And to develop, young players need minutes, which can be a tricky balance to manage.

Ending the tangent, Leonard proved himself an excellent three-point shooter, an improved defender, and a good rebounder when given the opportunity. He pulled it all together in the team’s series against the Memphis Grizzlies, when he put in 10 threes in five games on 76.9% shooting from deep on national TV. For a frame of reference, this is exactly double the amount of threes that Damian Lillard made throughout the series.

This is all despite Leonard’s relative lack of minutes. His unedited stat line seems pedestrian at best, averaging 5.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game this past season. Per-36 numbers tell a little bit more of the story (13.9 points and 10.6), but I am leery of defaulting to a per-36 look when Leonard played such scattered minutes. When a player only gets a few minutes here and a couple there, it can play all sorts of tricks on the numbers, as he had no chance to get any sort of flow going.

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For that reason, I looked at how Meyers Leonard performed in the twenty games that he received the most minutes in during last season (roughly when he played nineteen or more minutes). This means that he was not only used for situational minutes, but in an actual role in those particular games. This also helps to cull out merely garbage time minutes, which are often very misleading stat-wise.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but you always wonder if a player can keep up his performance with a higher usage against better competition. Have no fear Blazer fans, as in these high-usage games, Leonard put up 10.7 points and 6.9 rebounds in 24 minutes per game, which are perfectly fine numbers (these numbers prorated to per-36 would be 15.8 points and 10.1 rebounds). Also during these games, Leonard shot a blistering 44.4% from three on a not insignificant 63 attempts.

So, the question becomes, “What does all this mean?” Do I think that all of a sudden if he is given starter minutes, Leonard will start dropping 16 and 10 every night? No, I don’t think he could immediately step into a role and accomplish that, but I think that he has shown the flashes of potential to start getting there. Remember, he has only completed three years in the league, and has not really played consistent, significant minutes in any of them.

We can’t definitively say that if Leonard gets X minutes, he will score Y points with Z rebounds, but the signs point toward the fact that Leonard can make solid contributions if he is given the chance to do so. I suspect that opponents will stop giving him such open looks from three, which may hamper his productivity there, but all that means is a big man defender will be drawn away from the basket, making things easier on the rest of the Trail Blazers.

Meyers Leonard exit interview via Portland Trial Blazers

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