The year was 2017. THEY were once again sleeping on the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Blazers ended up with 48 wins and the third seed in the brutal Western Conference, shutting down critics and keyboard warriors alike. Until…
Jrue Holiday happened.
The Blazers went on to drop the series in 0-4 fashion, but the bad news was just beginning.
The offseason was just as bleh as the first round of the playoffs.
Now we’re just weeks away with more questions than answers as it pertains to the 2018-19 edition of Rip City Season. Jared Wright and Bryant Knox of Oregon Sports News are back with their in-depth Portland Trail Blazers 2017-18 Season Previews for each player.
Today, we take a look at the Blazers’ much-maligned seventh-year big man, Meyers Leonard.
There are two key differences between Leonard’s 2017-18 season and the two years that preceded it. The first difference was that Meyers wasn’t used often, which meant that he didn’t get the amount of playing time needed to show just how terrible he’s been for the Blazers throughout his career. From 2015-17, Leonard has had a Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), Defensive Rating, and multiple Box Plus-Minus scores that have valued him below a replacement-level NBA player; a top performer from the G-League, or a hotshot rookie from the college ranks can outperform him on the court without any particular effort. Which brings us to the second reason why Leonard wasn’t able to inflict his brand of soul-sucking ineptitude on Rip City: Zach Collins.
The Gonzaga product was able to usurp Leonard’s spot in the rotation—and hang onto it. He provided the capable complement to Ed Davis the Blazers’ reserve units needed, and he left a guy who’d had six years in the Blazers’ system in the dust and on the pine.
When Leonard was out there, he shot the ball well (46/78 on the year), but with only 252 minutes played and 78 shots hoisted up, that sample size is too small to be of much use. His shooting percentages from 2015-16—the year before he signed a four-year, $41 million contract (45%, 37% from three)—and 2016-17—the first year of that deal (38%, 34% from three)—paint a clearer picture of Meyers Leonard as a 1000 minute-plus player during a season.
Leonard’s Player Efficiency Rating was inflated due to his limited playing time and the fact that PER is weighted toward 4s and 5s. He barely passed the ball on the few chances he had with it. And despite standing 7’1” and being able to jump tall buildings with a single bound, Leonard recorded exactly ZERO blocks. How clueless do you have to be to have a body that Zeus would be jealous of and misuse it that badly on a basketball court?
If Leonard’s earlier years were plain garbage, 2017-18 was him not doing much of anything. Which was an improvement for the Blazers, at least.
What He Brings to the Table
The only skill Leonard has shown in the NBA is the ability to shoot; in 2014-15, Leonard had a 50-40-90 season that isn’t official because he only shot 32 free throws. Even then, his shooting motion unfolds in an awkward, unnatural motion, which also describes everything he does on a basketball court. It was effective until the league as a whole got smarter about closing out on big men shooting from outside the arc. Leonard’s defenders got smaller and faster, and Meyers himself failed to develop any kind of secondary skill to complement his shooting.
Indeed, it would take a long time to list what Leonard doesn’t bring to the table. Going back to his movements and the way he positions himself, he seems eternally unsure of himself, awkward both in body and mind. If the Blazers played at a faster pace (they ranked 19th out of 30 NBA teams in pace last season), Leonard could find a few fast-break dunks as a trailer, or spot up for a three-pointer that would be so wide open only the Flash could contest it.
Even then, Portland has guys who could do those things as well in Al-Farouq Aminu and Mo Harkless. Chief and Mo are also useful on defense, something Leonard has never been and likely never will be.
Meyers Leonard had potential that led the Blazers to use a lottery pick on him in the 2012 Draft, taking him 11th. It’s fairly common at all for mid-to-late lottery picks to flame out, especially big men; they are picked at that range for reasons both good and bad. That doesn’t mean that Meyers becoming a Steve Novak that can dunk is any less disappointing for a Trail Blazers fan.
The Portland franchise has had precious few lottery picks since the Lottery System was implemented in 1985, so perhaps we feel the sting of flops and failures more keenly than the poor sods that root for a perennial bottom-feeder. And after six years, much complaining about Leonard, Rip Citizens harassing Leonard on Twitter about his ineptitude (which is seriously messed up, never do that), a $41 million flyer taken during the crazed Summer of 2016, and many chances to establish himself as a part of the Blazers’ core, I feel comfortable declaring Meyers Leonard a flop.
What to Expect in 2018-19
All is not lost for Leonard in terms of prolonging his NBA career beyond 2020, despite Zach Collins successfully stealing his job. Portland failed to retain Ed Davis this summer, mostly because Leonard is making over $10 million a year. Collins will absorb the bulk of Davis’ 19 MPG, but there are a few scraps Leonard could pick up.
The Blazers also were ridiculously healthy in 2017-18. Someone is going to get hurt, maybe multiple someones, and Meyers could get chances to step in for some minutes in that situation.
This season feels like Leonard’s last chance, and after getting undercut by Collins, he needs to play like it. If ever he’s going to show some fire and fight, now’s the time. His future with the Blazers doesn’t extend beyond the end of his horrible contract.
His future in the NBA, though? That’s still in doubt.
Check out the other players in our Portland Trail Blazers Player Preview Series: