Pelton: Blazers C Meyers Leonard Lacks Strength And Toughness

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Basketball Prospectus assesses the 2012 NBA Draft class, including Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard of the Portland Trail Blazers.

Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus assesses the 2012-13 rookie class, including thoughts on Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard and center Meyers Leonard.

6. Damian Lillard, Portland (.544 Win%, 2.5 WARP)
As expected, Lillard has cooled somewhat after one of the league's most surprising starts. He made 40.4 percent of his threes in November, a figure that's down to 26.7 percent so far this month. One encouraging sign is that Lillard has pumped up his December scoring average by getting to the free throw line more frequently, and he's also increased his assist rate dramatically to compensate. While Lillard probably isn't the immediate All-Star he looked like much of his first month, he remains the most productive rookie in this year's class.

11. Meyers Leonard, Portland (.411 Win%, -0.1 WARP)
What makes Leonard such an interesting rookie is that he's got the size and he's got the skill (53.5 percent on twos and a sparkling 85.2 percent from the line so far). What's holding him back is lack of strength and, frankly, toughness. Leonard has gotten pushed around on the glass--the Blazers have been abysmal on the glass when they pair Leonard with LaMarcus Aldridge--and has only been average as a shot blocker. Those tend to be young-player skills, not ones that are developed in the NBA. Portland has to hope that, as was the case at Illinois, Leonard is a late bloomer.

Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge has also drawn some heat for his lack of toughness, prompting Blazers GM Neil Olshey to defend him and also suggest that perhaps some rebounding help could be coming at the trade deadline.

Blazers coach Terry Stotts called out Leonard's defense back in November.

"He (Meyers Leonard) needs to work on his individual post defense," Stotts said. Gortat scored on him, Jermaine O'Neal scored on him. He's trying, but right now, he's a poor post defender one-on-one."

Update: Candace Buckner of The Columbian had these quotes from Stotts on Leonard's rebounding on Tuesday.

"I think he needs to rebound better on both ends of the floor," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said of Leonard. "I think rebounding is difficult to coach because it's very instinctive, especially offensive rebounding. But defensive rebounding is reacting to the ball, knowing where your man is and where the ball is and reading the ball off the rim."

"So there (are) a lot of instincts involved but also you have the repetition of awareness and making rebounding a priority."

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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