They used to call it one of the best draft classes of the last 25 years. Now, it’s looking more and more like Anthony Davis… and then everybody else. Still, on June 28, the 2012 NBA Draft will bring hope, and hopefully new talent to some teams that desperately need it.
As we do every year, Dime will be holding you down with Mock Drafts, player interviews and diaries (you should check out Dion Waiters‘ draft diary), and we will also be bringing you draft profiles for every potential prospect deemed worthy. With this year’s crop of talent, that list is long. Our first profile comes for Illinois’ sophomore center Meyers Leonard, a player who looks like he could fit in anywhere from picks 10-25 on draft night.
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Best case: Tyson Chandler
Worst case: Chris Mihm
Comparison: Chris Andersen without the tattoos or unique personality
(on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being overseas talent and 10 being NBA Rookie of the Year)
After a six-inch growth spurt during his sophomore year of high school, Meyers Leonard stood at 7-0. Some websites currently list him at 7-1, but whatever his height is one thing is for sure: he is no stiff. Leonard managed to retain all of his athleticism and coordination after the growth spurt. He has great broad shoulders and moves extremely well. His jumping ability allows him to make a lot of highlight reel plays. The only thing lacking in the athleticism department with Leonard is strength. Luckily, that is something that can be improved upon with NBA strength and conditioning coaches.
Leonard’s game relies a lot on his size and athleticism at this moment in time. While there is no doubt that he has the tools to become a skilled player, he is not there yet. He is predictable in the post, often using his right hand (even when on the left side). Despite rumors that Leonard can knock down mid-range shots, he only went 6-for-25 from anywhere outside of 17 feet. His free-throw percentage (73 percent), however, is one promising sign that an outside shot can be developed. One thing that is attractive about Leonard’s game is his touch around the basket. Many times he has trouble establishing position in the post but he still remained an effective player down low because of his ability to hit hook shots or off-balance lay-ups.
While Leonard had a more productive sophomore year than his freshman year, he is far from ready to contribute at the NBA level. Just look at this roller coaster graph of his production from StatSheet.com from this past season:
Consistency is one of the major knocks on Leonard and he struggled with it mightily as the year went on. Perhaps he needs to work on his mental preparation for games or maybe that inconsistency goes back to his lack of strength. Whatever the issue is, NBA teams should be aware that the only end of the floor Leonard will be ready for is defense.
This year’s draft is full of players with high ceilings. While Leonard does not have the big name of the others, he has the big ceiling to match. Seven-footers with his athleticism and coordination are not easy to come by. Every NBA team could use an athletic shot-blocker. Leonard is the kind of project that teams want to take on because of his constant improvement.
It is always a promising sign to see a young man who has fought through tough times. In a column earlier this year on ESPN.com, Dana O’Neil chronicled some of the previously undocumented hardships that Leonard has overcome. He has fought through the adversity and managed to keep improving his game at the same time. While he could not lead Illinois to a successful season, there is no doubt that Leonard shows promise.
Combined score: 36 out of 50 possible points
Leonard has a lot of likeable qualities. He is not the type of project that comes with a lot of red flags. Whoever drafts him should be patient. His development may take a little while, but the investment of Leonard could pay big dividends.
Best fit: Dallas Mavericks
Dallas presents the best of both worlds; it is a place where Leonard can play right away but also take time to develop. There is no rush to develop young talent in Dallas. They will be a contender for the next few years, especially if they land Deron Williams this summer. Tyson Chandler left a big hole at the center position and while Leonard will not be able to fill it right away, he will be able play a similar role to that of Chandler. That is the type of situation that would be ideal for Leonard. A situation like Orlando, which potentially could have no Dwight Howard, would not be ideal because too much would be expected of him too early. Dallas is the perfect place for Leonard to grow at the rate that works for him. It also does not hurt that Dirk could teach him a thing or two about the mid-range game.
“Meyers Leonard is an extremely undervalued prospect by the public. From conversations I’ve had with NBA scouts and from what I’ve seen with my own two eyes, a lot of NBA teams have him in the top 10 of their big boards. A good comparison for him might be JaVale McGee. When I watched him in high school, people were comparing him to Chris ‘Birdman’ Andersen because he’d block shots, grab offensive rebounds and catch alley-oops. Since his high school days, he has filled out and grown another inch or two. That raised his ceiling that much more. For all we know he might grow another inch. I think he’ll be able to play right away because of his defensive ability. Similar to Anthony Davis, once his offense starts coming around, which shouldn’t be long, the sky is the limit. He’s gotten so much better from year to year of me watching him that if he keeps it up at this rate he’ll be downright scary.” â€“ Daniel Poneman of IllinoisHSBasketball.com
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