I worry about that Portland's recent non-Lillard picks are going to end up busts. CJ McCollum is injured already. Meyers Leonard is Meyers Leonard. The rest are unknowns. Do you have this fear too? Who would you have drafted instead? What will it mean for the Blazers if nobody but Lillard makes a difference?
Define "bust". If you mean "out of the league" I don't think Portland's high picks are in danger of that. You never know with second rounders like Will Barton and Allen Crabbe. Since most second-rounders don't make it, though, I don't think you can label them busts no matter what happens. If "bust" just means not quite meeting expectations or making a revolutionary impact, Leonard and McCollum might end up qualifying. It's too early to tell, especially for C.J. But honestly I'm not comfortable getting that label anywhere near them yet.
As for who I'd draft instead, I'm not a revisionist history guy. Neil Olshey and I have been simpatico since he took the help, at least as far as the draft goes. I figured the Blazers would take Lillard two years ago and had Leonard on the short list of other interesting prospects...a risk but a fair one. This year McCollum seemed like the likely choice. With the players left on the board when Portland drafted, I probably would have done the same thing Olshey did.
As far as the effect on the Blazers if nobody pans out...it's not good, obviously. They don't need everybody to excel, but they need somebody. They're coming off a long string of ineffective drafting. Outside of Lillard the cupboard's been bare. They can't keep pouring first round picks down the drain and expect to keep up with the league or any kind of rebuild. One guy--Leonard, McCollum, Robinson, Barton, Crabbe, whomever--they can live with. Going 0-fer the youngsters will hurt.
It is probably to early to say this, but Meyers Leonard is a bust! Everyone says that it takes time for centers to develop, but after time has gone by he will still be a bust. You would think with Joel Freeland out he would take advantage of getting to play against Houston. He looked like a high school kid who was star struck about playing against Dight Howard. For all the athletic ability he has, he still lacks the desire to move his feet on defense.
Furthermore, I don't want to see my 7'01" center shooting deep jump shots or three point shots.
It takes time for everybody to develop, so I do think the special dispensation given Leonard on the basis of his position is a tad overblown. Some young centers do well, others don't. Some don't get it until their fourth year, others never get it at all. Leonard's attraction comes from him being different than many other young centers: height combined with mobility, touch, sneaky athleticism. He's got a little bit of guard to his game, stuffed in a center's body. But you have to take the other side of the coin too. He can't hold position, lacks fundamentals, has trouble reading the floor.
With a guy like this, deep on the floor may be exactly where you want him, at least early. I tend to be kind to rookies. With greater experience come greater expectations. At a certain point--a point which Leonard has not reached yet but that he's cruising towards--I figure the best solution to a guy who's not getting it is just letting him do whatever he can do. It's awfully easy to ruin a young guy's confidence. Sometimes you have to reset, go back to square one. If Leonard's shooting potential got him into the league, let him shoot while he gets his sea legs under him. I understand Coach Stotts trying to teach him more, wanting him to perform better in all aspects of his game before he sees regular duty. For now that's the right tactic. But if things don't improve I'd have no objection to Stotts just riding with what Leonard does best.
In any case, offense is hardly Leonard's biggest area of concern. Defense and rebounding need major overhauls. He wasn't playing in awe of Dwight Howard the other night. He was playing Howard the same way he plays everybody: somewhat out of position, looking lost and way overmatched. If he can fix that even a little bit I don't care if he's lobbing halfcourt shots on offense.
I'm a Meyers Leonard fan. He's not doing well but not as poorly as people say either. He needs more time and patience than fans are giving him. But I worry about his approach. He doesn't seem to be learning and I can't tell if he cares. What would you change about that if you could?
I'm not in Leonard's head, so I can't answer that fairly. I was encouraged to see him give a friendly, welcoming slap and a smile to Joel Freeland during the introductions at the home opener. It speaks well of him that he's not retreated into a shell since Freeland jumped ahead of him in the rotation. Such a gesture might even be classy...good teammate stuff. On the other hand, sometimes I think Leonard could care a little more than he seems to be from outside observation. Normally you'd want that friendly slap to say, "Go get 'em! And watch your back because I'm coming for those minutes." I'm not sure the second part is there for Leonard. I see him get frustrated with his own mistakes sometimes but I'm not sure if that frustration goes beyond momentary emotion into motivation to get better. It's nice to see a kid who seems to be happy and taking the experience well. But you also want that kid to realize that this is a cutthroat, physical business that you have to dedicate your life to and sacrifice for, lest someone else rip it away from you. Given the choice between Meyers smiling and Meyers getting frustrated with himself, I'd take neither. I want to go off the board into "bundling up all the work, pain, sacrifice, and frustration over mistakes into a knot of determination and then taking it out on the opponent by demanding rebounds and denying shots". I do not know if that's a part of his personality make-up, but it wouldn't hurt.
Where will Meyers Leonard be in five years. Playing for the Blazers? Starting?
Tough one. I'd say if he's still with the Blazers he'll be starting. Otherwise the temptation to bundle him in a trade will be significant. He could be an attractive throw-in piece. But either way I'm guessing he'll still be in the league, still living mostly off his face-up game, and probably closer to a 20-25 mpg guy than a 40 mpg starter. Guys with height and skill will always get a chance and even five years down the road he'll only be 26.
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