This week features the return of the Blazer's Edge Mailbag. If you have pertinent or interesting questions about the Portland Trail Blazers be sure to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org! Let's start with one about everybody's favorite forward/center.
Simple question, perhaps a complex answer. What would you do about Meyers Leonard?
Thanks for the question, Pete. Now I'm going to quibble with it a little bit. "What would you do..." implies that something must (or at least should) be done. I think Meyers Leonard is doing just fine right now in most ways. He's light years beyond his level two years ago. He's a productive player, a potential starter. If a coach committed to feeding the offense through him, Meyers could become a 20 ppg scorer. Whether doing so would be worth it is another matter. (My guess is "not".) But it's not like something is uniquely wrong with Leonard that requires special action. He's a 7-footer with shooting range trying to carve out a place in the league. Even if you consider Leonard's skill set special, that's a common story.
Compared to last season Leonard's 32% shooting rate from three-point land and his 43% overall clip look like disasters. In some ways they are. But Meyers is the victim of circumstance:
1. He's taking more three-pointers and more difficult three pointers as a part of his new role in the offense. His shooting percentage has gone up from every range between 3 feet and the three-point line. It's not like he's missing every shot he takes. He almost never gets attempts close to the basket anymore so there's nothing to buoy his percentages. That drop in long-distance effectiveness is naked to the world. It's making him look bad.
2. All the talk of being a "50/40/90 Guy" last season set expectations so high that he was all but doomed to fail. I understand needing bright spots to hold onto and showing optimism about the home players, but I cannot overstate how much I dislike the premature trumpeting of what ultimately end up being statistical anomalies. (You know the kind: "Player X is the only person to score 28+ points, dish 9+ assists, and have 3+ steals in a Tuesday night road game in a winter month outside of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.") OK...that player is NOT Michael Jordan, or even close. When his championship rings start spilling off of one set of fingers onto the other, give me a call. Until then, that statistical proclamation has all the authority of a fortune cookie.
Granted, Leonard's 50-40-90 mark stretched over a season, but did he play 82 games that year? No, he did not. Did he play starter's minutes against the first units of other teams? No, he did not. So do we know that Meyers Leonard is actually a 50-40-90 guy? Heck, we don't even know if Meyers Leonard is a 40% three-point shooter. It sure doesn't look like it right now. Maybe that shouldn't be his primary role in the offense, or even a reasonable expectation.
So what I'd "do" about Meyers Leonard is pretty simple: I'd let him play, not assuming that the deep perimeter game is his best asset, and I'd wait to see what happens. Confidence has always been a crucial component of Leonard's success. When he forgets the expectations and pressure and just plays, he looks pretty good. When he's overthinking or trying to live up to something he's not, he looks awful. He needs time, on-court repetitions, and the freedom to show the things he's best at. His rebounding is fine. His defense is coming along. If he doesn't get buried under a host of PR-invented expectations, he might actually turn out to be a nice player. We'll have to wait and see. Given the team's current situation, that's the proper course of action for now.
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