Here's a transcript of an interview conducted with Portland Trail Blazers center Meyers Leonard on Tuesday following 2013 Las Vegas Summer League practice. Leonard, entering his second season, discussed the Blazers' two new draft picks, where he fits on the depth chart, his offseason work and, in a bit of a surprise, his latest weapon: the three-point shot.
Your first impressions of 2013 Draft picks CJ McCollum and Allen Crabbe?
CJ, we took with the 10th pick, you're going to expect a little more from him. Very skilled on offense. He talks during practice, which I was really impressed with. His communication skills. Pretty good defender. Works really hard. It's the first time I've had a practice with him, so I was impressed.
Same goes with Allen. Really can shoot the ball. Long arms. Can play the passing lane. Grabbed a couple nice rebounds. I feel like he's pretty versatile as well. I think some people see him as just a wing shooter. However he develops is the way someone chooses to do so, but I think he can do multiple things.
Your team goals for 2013 Las Vegas Summer League
Just to play hard and become more of a defensive team. That's really it. Last year we struggled on the defensive end. We had a lot of guys who could score, we have to learn to defend the paint better and become an overall better team.
Do you think you could start next season?
I hope to. It's up in the air. I feel like it's there for me maybe to grab. It's just going to take a lot of hard work and learning.
What was your reaction to the Robin Lopez trade agreement?
I didn't really have much of a reaction to it. I've played against him a couple of times last year. Fairly strong. Pretty good rebounder, decent shot-blocker, I really don't know a lot about him. We'll see. It will be a good body for me to go up against in practice and learn from him hopefully. Just push each other.
When you look back at where you were, to where you are now, to where you want to be as a starter, how far along do you think you are in the process?
I really have no idea. That's a tough question there. I just have to continue to improve every time I'm in the gym. It happens to everyone really. They get a moment where they think they could have went harder. Naturally, growing away from that and learning to push through drills and things, whereas last year I would stop and think, and not understand what was going on. Just because it's complex. I feel like I've been able to exert more energy at getting better and really making strides.
To boil that down -- you think your feel for the game is improving?
Yeah. Not only that, my defense continues to improve, worked a lot on staying straight up. Defending the paint, continue to do that. Continue to work on my offensive game.
What are you working on on offense?
When I'm left open, I'm going to shoot the ball. I feel like I can make it most times. Continue to learn to score around the rim, different post moves. Both with finesse and with power. Every now and then, stepping out to the three-point line.
Not a lot. But hopefully Summer League gives me a chance maybe to do that a little bit. During the season, it will probably shy away, because that's just not my job. But I do feel like into the future, if you have a big man that can spread the floor and be a lethal threat from out there, it becomes harder to guard an offense.
You feel comfortable shooting threes?
Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Also, here are some quotes from a few questions posed by Joe Freeman of The Oregonian.
Where do you stack up at the center position?
I appreciate the fact that they think I can be good and perform at a high level. I think this summer and the month of June has really helped me. I still have a long way to go, but I feel like I can hopefully make a run at a starting position. If not, I'll continue to work at it and eventually try to become that starting guy.
You showed off a jump hook during practice
Yeah. I've tried to work on my jump hooks as go-to moves, both right and left hand. A little bit of floaters when I roll to the basket. A little bit of floaters when I roll to the basket, if they cut off the dunk. Obviously extending my range.
Reflections on last season
Last season, I definitely had my ups and downs. Pretty young, all rookies go through a similar thing. Damian really excelled, some of the other guys did. A lot of times, [assistant coach] Kim [Hughes] always tells me, it takes bigs longer. I wish it wasn't that way. I feel like I caught on with some things, but some things became more of a learning process. I just have to continue to work at it, and get better. Hopefully this season, I can continue to work at it and make more strides into the future.
Here's Freeman's piece on the work put in by a number of Blazers during June practice sessions.
PS Former Blazers.com intern Erik Gundersen sent in a note earlier Tuesday to say that Leonard has been hatching his three-point range plans for a bit.
I mean absolutely. The ability to space the floor as a big, knock down jump shots and not only that but obviously get in the paint, score finish around the rim. But, as far as the outside shot goes, I'm comfortable with it. You know, coach drew up a couple of plays for me, 'Meyers, go knock it down.' So it's good to know that my teammates and my coach have confidence in me to knock them down. But, I'm going to try to work on my overall game to be able to help this team win.
Here was Blazers coach Terry Stotts' reaction when asked about it earlier this season, per Gundersen.
I haven't really emphasized it with him cause I think there are a lot of things he can work on before that. But, it wouldn't surprise me at some point in his career that, that becomes repertoire.
PPS Leonard was 3-for-7 on threes as a rookie on the season. He was 1-for-12 total in two years at Illinois.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter