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Meyers Leonard Primed for Breakout after LaMarcus Aldridge Departure

With LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez departed, the Trail Blazers have lost a ton of talent on the front line.

Portland felt the need to trade its pick on draft night for Mason Plumlee, acquired Noah Vonleh in the Nicolas Batum deal and agreed to a deal with Ed Davis, but will surely need more help up front. But what if that help can come from the current roster? For instance, what if the Trail Blazers had a 7’1 player who put up a stat line last year that included a 50/40/90 and 13.9 points and 10.9 rebounds per 36 minutes?

If you thought it’d be hard for a player to put up those stats and go under the radar, you should meet Meyers Leonard. And with Aldridge’s departure shifting Portland’s focus from the present to the future, Leonard’s name could be more well-known this season.

Leonard was drafted in 2012 as a project, and Portland knew it would take time for him to harness his potential. But like so many players, there seemed to be an instant dismissal of him when he struggled out of the gate on both ends. After he seemed to take a step back in his sophomore year, many gave up hope that he’d never turn into a valuable contributor.

But Leonard showed a world of improvement last season. After attempting 13 three-pointers in his first two seasons combined, Leonard launched 112 threes in just 847 minutes last year.

His three-point shooting will be a huge help to Portland’s spacing with Aldridge gone. The Trail Blazers didn’t run a ton of pick-and-rolls with Leonard last season, but he showed flashes of a great pick-and-roll player, as someone who could pop out and knock down the jumper and roll to the rim. Leonard shows nice touch on turnaround hook shots, like the one he hits here in this video:

The next step in Leonard’s offensive game is showing some ability of getting to the rim. Leonard has been reluctant to put the ball on the deck even for a few dribbles to get into the lane. But Leonard has shown a willingness to take it to the rim during summer practice, even throwing down a one-handed jam. It may just be practice, but it’s a confidence we’ve yet to see from Leonard. If he can show just a bit of aggression off the dribble, he could be a lethal offensive weapon.

While Leonard has some development to do offensively, it’s on the defensive end where most of his development must take place. He’s long and athletic, and has the build to be a good defender. But he still can struggle with positioning on the pick-and-roll and get beat on the block.

He started to grasp the nuances of NBA defense better as last year progressed, but he has a long way to go. And his biggest weakness is his inability to stay on the floor.

Leonard averaged 4.8 fouls per 36 minutes, which was actually the lowest total of his career. He averaged a mind-blowing 7.7 fouls per 36 in 2013-14, which, as you may know, is 1.7 more fouls than you’re allowed in an NBA game.

Leonard’s biggest problem is being out of position and trying to make up for it, and he struggles with verticality. Leonard seems to think his athleticism can make up for being a half-step late, but it usually causes him to commit a foul. If he’s ever going to be a big contributor, he needs to get in better position on defense and learn how to challenge shots without fouling.

If he can keep whittling his fouls down, Leonard could be a huge part of the rebuild in Portland. With his dynamic offensive skill set and athleticism, Portland can hope for big things down the road from him if he harnesses all his talent.

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