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Meyers Leonard and Noah Vonleh Rejuvenate

Two young Trail Blazers big men make their case for court time in vastly different circumstances.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag covers a couple of Portland Trail Blazers forward-center prospects. Talking about the young guys is one of the true joys of pre-season basketball (before reality and 4 minutes per game set in) so let’s have at it!

Dave,

hey hey! Vonleh with 14 points/14 rebounds! betcha didn’t see that coming! should we get excited yet? could Noah be poised for a flood?

Vic

Noah Vonleh posting a double-double in Portland’s second pre-season game was a pretty big deal. Add the obligatory asterisk for pre-season, but also consider where Vonleh is coming from. His production last year was nothing to write home about, save maybe in a note to be signed by his parents. His performance in Summer League was universally panned. At this point any sign of life to his game is a positive.

Even in a high-scoring effort featuring post play (and hook shots!) Vonleh’s footwork wasn’t textbook perfect. He had footwork, though, exhibited in a defined, comfortable-looking move set. That’s a step forward.

Becoming the next Tim Duncan is not a prerequisite for sticking in this league. Players build long careers on one or two moves that defenders can’t stop. Noah’s body is incredible and his potential for that kind of offense is clear. Consistency, technique, and mindset are still under development. Seeing him head towards the basket with purpose—with an attack that was pre-determined and under his control instead of reacting and guessing--gives me hope that all things are possible.

Even if Vonleh doesn’t end up blossoming, he’s given us another glimpse of why he’s valued. At this point I’ll take it.

Dear Dave,

Meyers Leonard is flirting with an early return if reports can be believed. I’m happy but do you think its too soon? Are you worried about his durability and should he just rest until he’s completely right?

Wavy Haired Fan

I can’t believe I’m typing this, but Meyers Leonard is a big boy and he knows what he’s doing. I have a firm rule when it comes to judging player injuries: Don’t. These guys are surrounded by doctors. They have agents looking out for their welfare. They’re making decisions with multi-million-dollar careers on the line. The only person who should captain that ship with that much on the line (and that amount of advice available) is the player. I’m willing to live with the consequences of any decision they make as long as they are. I’d support Leonard if he held himself out. I’ll certainly support him when he returns to play.

The only exception to this rule is the “trying not to let us down” caveat. Sometimes a player’s good intentions--proving he’s tough, providing an example—can lead him astray. Usually this happens when he’s reacting to the perceived expectations of others rather than protecting his own welfare (and by extension that of the franchise he plays for).

Maybe the team is down 3-1 in the second round of the playoffs when a guy gets injured. He’s not going to walk away from his teammates when the entire season hangs by a thread. At that point it’s incumbent upon management to frame the picture. It’s not Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The player is 26 and has plenty of years left. The team needs him for the long run, not just for a single game...even a critical one. If the player still insists, what can you do? But it’s important to clarify that external expectations are not forcing him onto the court.

I guess the answer to your original question is, “Yes, Meyers Leonard should rest until he’s completely right.” It’s up to Meyers to determine when that is. If he deems himself right—or as right as he’s going to get—this week, we’ll have to take him at his word until further notice.

Keep sending those Mailbag questions to blazersub@gmail.com!

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com or @DaveDeckard)