LAS VEGAS — The Indiana Pacers entered the 2017-18 season as a team expected to go through growing pains following the loss of Paul George, as few expected Victor Oladipo to take the leap he did as a leading man.
The Pacers ended up earning the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and pushing the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the first round, ultimately losing out to LeBron James and company. This year, LeBron has headed West to the Lakers, leaving a void in the Eastern Conference that most assume will be filled by the Boston Celtics, but up-and-coming squads like the Pacers, Sixers, and others hope to be able to jump to the next tier.
Entering his second season in the NBA, the Pacers’ 2017 first round pick, T.J. Leaf, is working to take a leap of his own, finding himself looking to crack the rotation of a playoff squad. Leaf had 53 appearances for the Pacers in 2017-18, averaging 2.9 points and 1.5 rebounds on 47.1 percent shooting from the field and 42.9 percent shooting from three. That three-point percentage likely holds the key to Leaf finding himself in the regular rotation, as teams are always in need of more players to space and stretch the floor.
Leaf’s offensive talent is the known commodity to his game, but he knows he has other questions he must answer in order to earn those minutes, namely with regards to the physicality of being a big man in the NBA and improving as a defender.
“Coming in, I had to get stronger, more physical, and learn the physicality of the game,” Leaf told Dime from Summer League. “That’s something I’ve been working on a lot this summer, getting in the weight room, with our strength coaches, getting stronger, faster. Year one, I did learn a lot about the physicality of the game, so I kind of know what to expect now. Now I’ve just got to get my body to be able to take that stuff, and I think I’m definitely well on my way. Then, defensively, I’ve been working a lot to improve, being able to stay in front of one-on-one match ups, rebounds, offensively and defensively, and just be active. I’ve been working on a lot, I feel like my skill set is pretty high, I still am refining a lot of things in that as well. I’m trying to work on a bunch of things, just trying to get better and trying to really make some noise this year.”