The 2017 NBA Draft is almost upon us and the Portland Trail Blazers possess three first round picks (15, 20, 26), as you know if you’ve been following our draft profiles. Today we take one last look at another prospect and how he could benefit the Blazers, finishing the series by analyzing UCLA power forward T.J. Leaf.
- Height: 6’10”
- Weight: 220
- Wingspan: 6’11”
- Shoots: Right
- Position: PF
- Age: 20
- Projected draft range: 19-26
- PPG: 16.3 | Per 40: 21.7
- RPG: 8.2 | Per 40: 11.0
- APG: 2.4 | Per 40: 3.2
- BLK: 1.1 | Per 40: 1.5
- STL: 0.6 | Per 40: 0.8
Outside of Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen, it is tough to find another big man in this draft with more offensive upside than Leaf. Granted, he didn’t shoot a ton of shots from beyond the arc last season, attempting only 1.7 3-point shots per game, but the talented UCLA forward managed to connect on 46.6 percent of those attempts. Precise shooting isn’t the only thing that Leaf possesses in his offensive arsenal, as he uses his stellar court vision to create favorable opportunities for himself and others. While it is still a work in progress, he is in the early stages of developing a back-to-the-basket game that complements his perimeter skills nicely. If his post game continues to blossom, Leaf could become a formidable scoring threat when facing both traditional and small-ball lineups.
As of now, Leaf projects to be a one-dimensional threat at the next level, as his defensive acumen is miles behind his offensive prowess. At 220 pounds, it will continue to be a chore for him to compete for rebounds in a crowd of NBA-bodies. Often as a result of being muscled off his mark, Leaf struggled to rebound against elite competition, resulting in him only reaching double-digit rebounds in one of UCLA’s eight contests against ranked opponents. He also struggles to finish through contact on offense, limiting his upside as a target inside the paint.
With a considerable amount of help from Lonzo Ball, Leaf was able to lead his squad to an impressive 31-5 record last season. UCLA’s high-octane offense utilized Leaf’s ability to score in multiple ways beautifully, which brought the Bruins across the 100-point threshold on nine separate occasions over the course of the season. After cruising to the Sweet 16, UCLA eventually fell to a Kentucky team that was equally loaded with future NBA talent.
One-way players can be fine contributors in the regular season, but they are often marginalized in the postseason. That is the conundrum that Leaf faces at the next level, as his defensive deficiencies will keep him off the court when it matters the most. Barring a sudden leap, Leaf has a considerable amount of work to do before his defense catches up to his offense. If he can find the right situation, with the right coaching staff, he has the tools to become an impact player in the NBA.
In order to give Jusuf Nurkic room to work in the post, the Trail Blazers would be wise to add a consistent shooter with one of their three picks, in order to maintain spacing. Leaf won’t cure Portland’s defensive woes, but he could help them address another weakness with his ability to create lanes on offense by taking larger opponents out of the paint. Given President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey’s limited flexibility this offseason, he will likely have to address perimeter shooting in the draft, making Leaf a viable option for the Blazers.
Do you want Leaf in a Trail Blazers jersey next season? Tell us in the comments below.