RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Meyers LeonardPosted by EJacoby on June 22nd, 2012
The 2012 NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 28, in New York City. As we have done for the last several years, RTC’s team of writers (including Andrew Murawa, Kevin Doyle, Evan Jacoby, Matt Patton, and Danny Spewak) will provide comprehensive breakdowns of each of the 35 collegians most likely to hear his name called by David Stern in the first round on draft night. We’ll work backwards, starting with players who are projected near the end of the first round before getting into the lottery as June progresses. As an added bonus, we’ll also bring you a scouting take from NBADraft.net’s Aran Smith at the bottom of each player evaluation.
Note: Click here for all published 2012 NBA Draft profiles.
Player Name: Meyers Leonard
Height/Weight: 7’1” / 250 lbs.
NBA Position: Center
Projected Draft Range: Late Lottery Pick
Overview: Meyers Leonard get virtually no time as a freshman for the Illini (8.2 MPG), but he showed intriguing physical tools that started to develop the followin summer at the U-19 Championships before a breakout sophomore year for Illinois in 2011-12. Leonard is simply massive, standing nearly 7’2” in shoes with a 7’3” wingspan and cut body that put up the second-most reps on the bench press at Chicago’s Draft Combine. He became much more productive on the floor in year two for Illinois, averaging 13.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks while shooting 58.4% from the field – the latter three numbers good for third, first, and third in the Big Ten, respectively. He shows terrific athleticism for his size, dispelling the belief that he turn out to be a stiff. Instead, Leonard actually uses his body well – especially on defense where he was able to alter many shots with his length in addition to swatting nearly two per game. He displays good maturity and basketball IQ as witnessed by numerous great interviews, and he has much room to develop as a player. The concerns are that Leonard just doesn’t do anything smoothly on offense, struggling to score easy baskets in one-on-one situations, and he isn’t confident enough in his abilities at this stage. He shoots it well from the outside and the line (73.2%), so he should start to develop more confidence in his offensive game in due time. At this point, Leonard is a project but one with big-time upside as there are few bigs in the league with his combo of size, smarts, and athleticism. He continues to rise on draft boards.
Will Translate to the NBA: Leonard’s size can’t be taught and will be a massive asset, as he can get his shot off against nearly any defender and also alters shots with ease on defense. His shooting touch gives him a great chance to benefit in the pick-and-roll game to pop for jumpers or to roll for lobs. He’s an explosive finisher at the rim when he has daylight, and is an easy target for alley-oops. He’s cut for his size with solid shot-blocking instincts, leading to great defensive ability. Leonard shows great work ethic and maturity, signs that point to positive development.
Needs Work: Still very raw, Leonard needs to get in the gym and work on his shooting and post moves so that he can feel more confident offensively. As it is, he’s hoping to do the right thing with the ball when he gets it rather than knowing he can take a guy one-on-one. He was very inconsistent even during his breakout year, scoring in single digits 12 times last season and grabbing five or fewer rebounds 10 times. His rebound rate is not great for a player his size, and he needs to grab more boards outside of his area. Leonard must develop a desire to dominate rather than simply fit in.
Comparison Players: Few NBA players possess Leonard’s skill set, that of a 7’1” shot-blocker with explosiveness at the rim and a decent touch on the jumper. He’s a bit similar to Tyson Chandler with that description, and that’s the best comparison in a long term projection. But Chandler is very aggressive with his touches and knows his game wheeras Leonard doesn’t yet have that assertiveness even though he could actually become more skilled offensively. Nonetheless, think of Chandler in terms of Leonard’s back line defense and explosive finishing ability for a seven-footer.
Best Case Scenario: You just don’t find many basketball players with Leonard’s physical profile. He’s the tallest prospect available but also has explosive strength and decent mobility for his size. He’s never going to be a 20-10 guy because the points and rebounds just don’t come that easy for him, but Leonard can be an impact starting center that excels defensively and can score as a third or fourth option on offense. He’s going to work hard and if he develops that offensive confidence and some go-to moves, he’ll have a great chance to start at the center position for many years in the NBA.
Best NBA Fit: Who needs a long term starting center? Leonard shouldn’t be drafted for instant impact or just to add some size to a front line. There are other bigs who could contribute right away for teams off the bench. But Leonard projects more as a starter due to his terrific height and versatile skills, especially on defense. The franchise that drafts him must show patience. The Detroit Pistons need a center to complement Greg Monroe and have time to develop him, though #9 is about as high as he could go. The Milwaukee Bucks at #12 are a great landing spot; Leonard can replace Andrew Bogut who was recently traded and had been the franchise center. The Houston Rockets will probably scoop him up with one of their picks at #14 or #16 if he falls that far, as that team has strong depth at the forward and wing positions but no elite size or long term center option.
Scout’s Take (from NBADraft.net): “A high risk/reward pick, for a team looking to swing for the fences, Leonard’s upside is far greater than Zeller’s.”
*This post was contributed by RTC’s Evan Jacoby. He can be found on Twitter @evanJacoby.