Portland Trail Blazers rookie guard Damian Lillard has dominated the Rookie of the Year talk this season but an increased opportunity in recent weeks for Meyers Leonard has helped get the rookie center some attention.
This week, Leonard was included on the NBA.com rookie ladder, ranking No. 9 out of 10.
With LaMarcus Aldridge out with a sprained ankle, it's given Blazers fans a chance to see a little more from their other lottery pick. Over his past four games, Leonard has averaged 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in 34.2 minutes per game while shooting 54 percent from the floor. The 7-foot-1 big man had a career-high 22 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to Warriors in what coach Terry Stotts called his "best game of the season."
Earlier this week, Zach Lowe of Grantland.com includes Leonard in his weekly list of things he likes around the NBA.
A late-season silver lining for Portland: Leonard is getting more minutes now with the playoffs out of reach and LaMarcus Aldridge dealing with an ankle issue. Leonard is still out of his depth on defense, but he has done well on the other end in extended minutes - including a 22-point outburst in a blowout loss to Golden State over the weekend. Leonard has shown he should be able to work as a refined jack-of-all-trades pick-and-roll big, slipping screens, cutting hard into space, and making solid and instant decisions about whether to pass, loft a floater, or roll for a dunk attempt. Sometimes those hard cuts suck in defenders, opening up things for teammates, without Leonard even touching the ball.
Locally, David MacKay at Rip City Project ran down Leonard's strengths and weaknesses.
Weakness: Confidence. For Pete's sake, don't just stand there! When Meyers receives the ball outside the post he hesitates on open shots. Portland needs him to be a willing scorer. He reminds me of the kid on every rec team that gets plenty of open looks but would rather pass the ball than risk letting his teammates down with a missed shot. Of course, he shouldn't be shooting every time, that's not how the offense is designed, but I can feel the tension of wasted opportunities every time he waits for his defender to approach.
On Wednesday night, Leonard offered some thoughts on areas for improvement, including the defensive end.
Mike Tokito of The Oregonian had more on that subject earlier this week.
"I'm still trying to learn how to guard one-on-one in the post," he said. "It's a big difference going from college where I just use my athleticism and sat behind guys, to where I'm playing in the NBA, banging bodies every time down the court. And having to guard a guy that's just completely skilled, it's something that I'm just not used to right now. I gotta continue to watch film and understand guys' tendencies and such."
Thanks to T Darkstar for the top link. Hat tip to Casey Holdahl of Blazers.com on the second one.