Despite dealing with inconsistent minutes and a sprained ankle, it appears as though Portland Trail Blazers rookie Meyers Leonard has started putting it all together. Leonard followed up a 12-point, 8 rebound game against the Denver Nuggets with a 15-point, 6 rebound effort against the Charlotte Bobcats. While two games might be a small sample size and his season averages (4.7 points, 3.3 rebounds in 14.9 minutes) aren’t eye-popping, he’s recently displayed an improved court awareness (which is something Leonard struggled with early in the season, especially with missed defensive assignments) that has helped him re-emerge from head coach Terry Stotts’ doghouse.
At 7’1″ and 251 pounds, Leonard has the kind of size that you simply can’t and many NBA player personnel men covet. He also has a respectable wingspan (7’3″) and a 30″ standing vertical leap, which give him the potential to develop into an above-average shot-blocker. Perhaps no asset is better in today’s NBA than the ability to defend the pick-and-roll, where Leonard uses his solid lateral quickness to show and recover. Leonard will still need to improve his lower-body strength to hold position defending the post against some of the NBA’s better big men, but has adequate upper body strength. Despite his athletics ability, Leonard is still largely a positional rebounder, rarely grabbing a missed shot outside of his area.
Offensively, Leonard has a respectable mid-range jump shot with range out to 18 feet. While his low-post game lacks a true go-to move, he generally sets solid picks, and aggressively attacks the rim when he receives the ball after the pick. The development of a move and counter-move in the post could move him from a rotation-level big man to solid starter down the road.
On defense, Leonard has shown the ability to hedge against the pick-and-roll, while also showing the quickness to show and recover in those situations as well. He still needs to improve his awareness, especially when the team switches to a zone, as Leonard has shown a tendency to be out-of-position. He also needs to do a better job of moving his feet, which leads to him picking up some cheap fouls. When it comes to shot-blocking, Leonard tends to swing his arm down when trying for a block, which also leads to unnecessary fouls.
With Portland potentially having $10-plus million in cap space at season’s end, the team may decide that it may cost too much to retain unrestricted free agent power forward/center J.J. Hickson, spending their money elsewhere to add bench scoring and frontcourt help. If Leonard can continue his steady improvement through the last six weeks of the season, as well add some muscle this offseason, the Trail Blazers could give Leonard a shot as the team’s starting center for the 2013-2014 season.