For much of December, Meyers Leonard struggled to find consistency on the court. His shot would not fall, his confidence was in question, and his slump bore out in the numbers. Leonard went nine straight games with single-digit scoring, making less than one third of his field goal attempts over that time (20/61). However, recent contests have seen Leonard refreshed, suggesting that the perhaps his days of redemption are at hand.
So what clicked? How has Leonard reemerged as the efficient scorer we’ve seen glimpses of in the past? Through the last three games, he shot above 50 percent from the field and from deep, averaging 15 points in the process. Leonard states that his drastic turnaround goes beyond scoring, and has to do with focusing more on involvement than getting shots.
"Being in the paint more on both ends kind of gets the juices flowing and allows me to get in the flow of the game." Leonard said. "I think that’s what really helps; grabbing a couple rebounds and being part of something other than just trying to shoot the ball and score for the team."
The more Leonard does right, the more falls into place for him, and don’t think he is not paying close attention to his own performance. He scrutinizes every detail to increase the value of his contributions.
"I watch [game film] myself. Then I watch with an assistant. They’ll pull clips, ‘You could have had a better angle on that closeout,’ or ‘You could have bent your knees a little quicker for that three. You were a little off-balance. You could have had better help at the rim,’ or ‘Great help, good box out, good rebound, then you’re out in transition.’ So there’s a lot of things that I look at, whether it be something the coach is trying to point out, something that I see when I just watch my minutes on the plane. I always watch my minutes on the plane as I’m coming back home from an away game."
Having a stronger paint presence was Leonard’s focus this past week, which is something we tend to see less of, given his style of perimeter play. He refers to himself as a "four-and-a-half" that can play both the power forward and center position. When necessary, he can hold down the defensive fort at the rim, as he did in Sunday’s win over the Sacramento Kings. Head coach Terry Stotts acknowledged that the role is challenging, but knows that Leonard can handle it.
"He’s got to balance being a perimeter player on offense and being an interior presence defensively, you know, being able to challenge shots, affect shots, protect, make up for mistakes of teammates, be a help defender—all those things and finishing with the rebound."
Leonard has done well with this slate of responsibilities of late. Time will tell if this is closer to the exception or the norm, but even teammate CJ McCollum has begun to notice a shift in activity that plays to Leonard’s natural skill set.
"He always does a good job of talking on the court, talking out the shell, talking out the screens, matchups." McCollum said. "I like that he had 11 rebounds last game. That’s the stuff that we need from him with his athleticism and strength. I think it’s important that he mixes it up and continues to do what got him here."
Over the last three games, Leonard has averaged 15 points and seven rebounds off the bench. There is a chance that his production will dip as a result of forward Ed Davis (ankle) returning to the lineup, but it is worth noting that this positive trend began before Davis succumbed to injury. Davis went through full practice on Tuesday, but his status has not yet been determined for Wednesday’s matchup with the Denver Nuggets.
Leonard has quite a ways to climb after starting the season particularly cold, but it would appear that he is moving in the right direction. This mini-streak of success alone has upped his season 3-point percentage from 24 to 29—bordering passable, and certainly salvageable. If he continues to ramp up his involvement, integrating himself into the game flow, we may see him not only become a plus defender and rebounder, but be resurrected as the efficient scorer that he needs to be.
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