July 19, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Mike Scott (32) and Portland Trail Blazers center Meyers Leonard (11) and guard Damian Lillard (0) go for a loose ball in the first half of the game at the Cox Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
I noticed you talked about Damian Lillard before, during, and after the draft and again after Summer League but you've said comparatively little about Portland's other draft pick, Meyers Leonard. What's your opinion of him? Does he bring a ray of hope into this likely dismal season?
No slight was intended to Leonard, to be sure. Lillard was simply an easier, more obvious target for discussion.
The most exciting thing about Leonard is his agility. We mentioned this in his scouting report and we all saw it again in Las Vegas. His lateral movement is really nice for a big guy, especially on defense. This means that finally Portland might see an end to its woeful pick and roll problem.
We didn't see it as clearly in latter years because the Blazers switched on just about every screen, but once upon a time they defended screens like they were differential calculus problems. Back in the day we screamed at Portland's guard defenders. They wouldn't fight through screens. They barely went around screens. Instead they just stopped. "Ooops! A screen! I guess my defensive responsibility for this play is over." ARRRGHHH! Though guard incompetence was part of the equation, Portland's bigs didn't exactly help much. The Blazers recruited post-defending big men. That was well and good, except every time they got drawn into a screen situation they ended up lumber-footed. Half of them couldn't get out to impede a dribbler using a screen. The other half didn't put forth the effort. The end result was a guard stuck on the other side of the pick and a big shuffling over, trying to guard a free ball-handler. That's two points for the opposition, perhaps with a foul as the cherry on top.
To the extent he plays, Leonard is going to make guarding screens far easier. He's long and he covers turf, a great combination. His ability to hop out, delay the dribbler, then get back to his man is amazing...at least in comparison to his predecessors. Finally, maybe, we'll see Portland's wing defenders re-energized while defending picks.
Naturally Leonard has plenty to learn. His offensive footwork needs help. He needs a consistent go-to move, eventually two. He needs to learn which shots he can block and which he should let go. His rebounding technique will evolve as well. He's not ready-made. His first season or two will come with lumps. But the Blazers have time. As long as he's developing good habits his athletic gifts should see him through.
Obviously the way Leonard is coached will make a huge difference. In addition to teaching him the basics and helping him set priorities, somebody will need to get in his ear and tell him how he's going to make a living in this league. He'll need a coach or veteran to sit him down and explain that you don't have to be Dwight Howard to find success. Do a couple basic things well and people will be willing to pay you at least half a million dollars a month for the next decade or more. If you really apply yourself and learn your craft that number will get higher. But it doesn't come from scoring 20 per game or blocking 5 shots. Instead it's about helping your teammates on defense, rebounding, and outrunning your opponent both ways down the floor.
If Leonard can stay away from undue pressure during his developmental years he should turn out to be a fine center. He's not going to revolutionize the franchise, but he'll bring a new look. As long as he develops well, Portland fans should be pleased.