Whether it was Plan A or not, the Portland Trail Blazers went nearly all-in on internal growth this summer, re-signing their restricted free agents for veritable boatloads of cash. Among them was forward-center Meyers Leonard, received a 4-year, $41 million contract. Though probably a high-value deal, there are those who still balk at the figure. Tom West of Today’s Fastbreak explains why Leonard’s unique ability to shoot the three as a 7’1" forward-center makes it beneficial to retain his services at what can be considered a premium.
After making a measly total of three three-pointers in his first two years combined in the NBA, Leonard has broken out as a legitimate threat from deep over the last two years. Jumping from zero made threes in 2013-14 to 47 in 2014-15 kicked off that process, especially because he made them at an impressive 42 percent rate. Then, to add some quantity to that efficiency, Leonard made 86 in 2015-16, which makes the slight drop in completion (37.7 percent) more understandable.
He shifted further away from the basket than ever last season. It makes sense given the prominence of Lillard and McCollum’s scoring and drives inside, thus leaving Leonard as an ideal option to kick the ball out to when defenses are pulled inside by a driver or others like Al-Farouq Aminu and Allen Crabbe. With a career-high 52.4 percent of his field goal attempts coming from three and only 10.3 coming within 10 feet, Leonard embraced his role as a floor-spacing big.
Leonard is at his best as that catch-and-shoot threat. Per NBA.com, he shot 39 percent on catch-and-shoot threes last season, which isn’t a bad attribute to have in a 7’1″ big man. Even better is how quickly he’s risen to that level of three-point impact over the last two seasons.
In fact, primarily because of that additional threat from deep, how it stretches opposing perimeter defenders and frees up space inside for Lillard and McCollum, the Blazers scored 2.7 more points per 100 possessions with Leonard on the floor last season. On top of that, Portland also shot 45.5 percent overall and 38.3 percent from three with him on the floor, which are both higher than the team’s season average.
West also breaks down why the addition of Festus Ezeli is a good thing for Leonard and the team as a whole. To read the article in full, follow this link. It is one of the more enjoyable off-season Blazer pieces of the Summer lull.