Published on February 4th, 2012 | by Bryant West, Columnist0
2012 NBA Draft Prospect Stock Watch: Meyers Leonard
Name: Meyers Leonard
Hometown: Robinson, IL
Physicals: 7′ 0″, 245 lbs, 19 years old
NBA Position: Center
Current Stats: 13.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 2.0 BPG, 2.1 TPG, 57.7% FG, 71.6% FT
Illinois big man Meyers Leonard is having one of the biggest breakout seasons in the NCAA. After being a top 10 recruit in the class of 2010, Leonard played just eight minutes a contest for Illinois last season and was anything but effective. This season, he’s exploded for the 16-6 Fighting Illini and is quickly winning over scouts.
Scouts really started to pay attention to him as an NBA prospect in last summer’s Under-19 games, where he played for Team USA and was impressive. Leonard is best on the defensive end, where his excellent athleticism and length make him an imposing force. He averages two blocks per game for Illinois, and with a near to NBA size body already, the transition into the pros won’t be that difficult for him defensively.
Offensively he’s making significant strides. While he still doesn’t have a go to move and needs to improve his skill set, he’s a good scorer around the basket, averaging 13.5 points on 57.7 percent shooting. His speed and athleticism make him difficult to cover, and he’s also got an improving jumpshot.
The main question marks about Leonard is his consistency and his drive. He’s had some breakout performances so far this season—he had a 22 point, 15 rebound, five block performance against Richmond and a 21 point outing against then #18 Gonzaga—but he’ll also have games where he’s fairly invisible. In last Tuesday’s 42-41 win over #10 Michigan, he had just four points and six boards on 2-7 shooting.
Scouts also question his motor—at times he looks a bit lazy or unconcerned, and he’s known for straying from the paint in favor of longer jumpers of even threes (he’s shooting just 12 percent on the season from three). And he had an utterly disappointing Freshman season where he averaged just two points and a rebound per game.
But to his credit, he’s drastically improved this season, which speaks just as much about his drive as his sometimes-lazy play does. His talent is obvious, and as long as he wants to improve, he has the potential to be a lottery selection, even in a dramatically deep draft class.
Draft Watch: It’s a bad class to be in if you’re a big man. Most of the lottery selections will be post players, most of whom are more talented than Leonard (Jared Sullinger), have higher potential (Andre Drummond) or have a far more consistent motor (Thomas Robinson, John Henson).
If he enters the 2012 draft, he’ll have to duel up against the best of the best in workouts to prove he really belongs. Defensively, he’ll fair well—although the only matchup this season he’s had with a top selection is a 79-74 win over Ohio State, where Jared Sullinger had 21 points and five rebounds on 9-16 shooting. Leonard had 14 points and five boards in the win.
He has another matchup with Sullinger scheduled for February 21st, but this time it’ll be a road contest. On February 9th, the Fighting Illini travel to Indiana to face Cody Zeller and the Hoosiers in a match-up sure to make any scout drool.
I currently have him behind Anthony Davis, Drummond, Robinson, Sullinger and Perry Jones in terms of big man, and currently #9 on my Mock Draft going to Houston.
The Rockets could use a young big man to go with Luis Scola and Samuel Dalembert. They have Patrick Patterson and Jordan Hill, but neither are centers or have the potential that Leonard has.
Another fit would be Golden State, if the Warriors get to keep their pick (if it’s below seven, they send it to the Jazz). Leonard is a lot like Andris Biedrins, right up to the inconsistency and questionable motor, but the Warriors could use another center who can rebound and is a above-average defender.
A good number of late lottery-mid teen teams could eagerly swipe him up—Milwaukee, Memphis, Boston, and Portland would all love a young big with Leonard’s potential. If he falls too far because of the questions about his motor, he could end up being a steal of the draft should that snubbing motivate him.
Conclusion: In such a deep big man draft, it’s hard to predict who will go where. He’s clearly less talented than a good number of the early lottery bigs, but when you get to picks eight and on, it could really shuffle as we get closer to June. His defensive skills and improving offense will make him a lottery selection whenever he comes out, but don’t be surprised if he stays in college another season and comes out in 2012 when there are less bigs to compete with.
Photo Credit: Damen Jackson/Icon SMI