Who Is?: Meyers Leonard


This post is going to admittedly be hard for me to write. A little background from me — I am a Northwestern alum and a writer for the Northwestern blog Lake The Posts. When it comes to Illinois, we do not quite get along (sorry, Nick Anderson). I saw a decent amount of Meyers Leonard as an opponent. Trying to stay objective when it comes to your school’s arch nemesis is not exactly easy. So, I am sorry if the Bad seems to outweigh the Good (mostly I apologize to Meyers, because it is unfair to evaluate him from that position).

There might not be a bigger — by that, I mean taller — player in this draft though. If the Magic are hoping to get a center, or a backup center or whatever, and Leonard is available, he is by far the best option. Possibly the only one.

Some of the negatives that I highlighted when I watched him as a Northwestern fan are the exactly the same reasons why Leonard is all over the board in mock drafts. There are mock drafts that have him going in the mid-lottery and then there are mock drafts that have him going to the lottery.

No one is quite sure if Leonard is a future defensive stalwart or just another tall stiff (for lack of a better term). Leonard’s inconsistency in college is the biggest cause for this mystery. He was not consistent, but averaged 13.6 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game for Illinois last year as a sophomore, doing most of his damage on put backs and on defense.

The Good: The good is most certainly Leonard’s size and length. Leonard is listed at 7-foot-1 and he has the long arms to go with it. In a lot of ways, he looks and plays a little like Steven Hunter (if you can remember him). Coming out of college, Hunter was a pure shot-blocker and his offensive game was limited purely to dunking. Leonard has that too. He was a great shot blocker at Illinois, averaging 1.9 blocks per game last year.

Leonard’s offense might be slightly ahead of where Hunter’s was and he lacks some of Hunter’s athleticism… but I am supposed to be talking about the good here. Leonard has decent touch and a good feel for the game. The potential is there if he can get the coordination that many young 7-footers need to develop.

Leonard has a willingness to commit himself to improving. He improved immensely from his freshman to his sophomore year. He was the brunt of criticism his freshman year and a constant lightning rod even among Illini fans for his play. But he actually showed improvement and still has a high ceiling because of his deceptive athleticism and the hope that he will continue to grow into his body.

The Bad: There is some bad to get to when it comes to Leonard. The biggest is his weight. He is listed at 245 pounds and looks rail thin compared to other centers. At the college level, he was able to use his agility and size to recover and overwhelm smaller players in the post. That will not be the case in the NBA. If Leonard wants to be a center in the NBA, he either needs to develop a jumper or get stronger in the post. This is where another year in college would have greatly helped Leonard.

As athletic as Leonard is and as good as he was defensively at times, consistency was an issue and it still looks like he is growing into his body. This is not an uncommon problem when it comes to young post players. But the lack of fluidity makes him a step slow occassionally in his reactions. Leonard is not the fastest player on the floor. You can almost compare it to someone who knows what he is supposed to do and where to be but just doesn’t have the quick-thinking or reaction to be there all the time.

That does not mean Leonard cannot be very good. That fluidity will come with comfort. But that is a comfort you like to see developed in college, not at the NBA level. There is the feeling that his first few years will be all about his development and taking his lumps. You just do not see him becoming an elite post player in the league and more of a 7-footer who hangs around because of his height.

Draft Sites Say:

NBADraft.net: “Fluid, athletic 7-footer with developing all-around skills … Excellent length on a good frame that will be capable of supporting more muscle … Quick off his feet … Will need to add more weight to be comfortable against NBA-caliber centers … Lacks a real go-to move offensively, though he can do a number of different things well … Inconsistent motor.”


Ed Isaacson, NBA Draft Blog: “Leonard’s game is all about potential.  7-foot-1 with good athleticism should give him the upper hand in being a very good pro.  However, there are so many areas he needs to work on, that it will be at least a year or two before he has any kind of impact at the NBA level.  Getting stronger and being more physical are the most important things he needs to do to get consistent time on the court, and if he learns to be more aggressive, he should be a decent post option over time for some team.”

Evan Dunlap, Orlando Pinstriped Post: “Meyers Leonard didn’t have a stellar freshman campaign for the Illinois Fighting Illini, averaging just 2.1 points and 1.2 boards in 8.2 minutes over 33 appearances. But Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress predicted the seven-footer was destined for a breakout performance in his sophomore season, and Leonard proved him right: the Robinson High product took on a far greater role, playing 31.8 minutes per game — compared to 8.2 as a freshman–and responded by averaging 13.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and a Big Ten-leading 1.9 blocks per game.”

Zac Ceigler, Draft Hype: “If the Magic lose Dwight Howard, they will need to fill the void. Look for Leonard or maybe Fab Melo to end up in Orlando.”

Chad Ford, ESPN: “Long, athletic big man … Runs the floor well … Quick for a big guy … A raw offensive player … Needs more focus and concentration … Needs to add strength”

Final Word: Like I said, I have a weird perspective on Leonard. He is likely better than I have described in my profile of him. He is a quick, athletic big man with a good basketball IQ and a lot of potential. He has some fluidity and consistency problems and needs to develop his offensive game a bit more. He is also rail thin and does not have the strength to be a real dominant post game.

These are not things that cannot be developed. It looks highly unlikely that Leonard will fall to 19, but you never know. Nobody seems quite sure how to project him.

And, in the interest of full disclosure, I leave you this video … sigh:

Follow Meyers Leonard on Twitter (@MLeonard_12)! Also meet Moe Harkless, Arnett Moultrie.