For weeks now, the Pistons most likely draft pick have been from a stable of several big men – John Henson, Perry Jones, Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller. One prospect, however, has launched up mock drafts with some impressive workouts. That player is Illinois’ sophomore center Meyers Leonard.
The 20-year old big man has a massive frame for someone so young – 7’1” and 250 pounds – and that size is exactly what the Pistons have lacked for several years now. He could be the true center that the team has needed; they’ve been swapping power forwards in at the five spot for awhile now.
As with every draft prospect, there are going to be pros and cons to selecting one of the many young men who leave school for the NBA.
Leonard’s biggest pro is his size, obviously. He could immediately join with Greg Monroe to form a long, athletic frontcourt – again, something that Detroit hasn’t had in some time. I hate to sound like a broken record with that, but as someone who has watched countless Piston drafts go by without a significant big man selection, it’s encouraging to know that the team will work Leonard out.
The length that Leonard would bring immediate dividends on the defensive end, as the former Fighting Illini big man averaged 1.9 blocks a game last season, up from just 0.4 in his freshman year. He also grabbed 8.2 rebounds a game last season – an increase of seven rebounds from his first year in Champaign.
For someone his size, Leonard also has an extremely good shooting touch. Field goal percentage is generally pretty high, considering their proximity to the basket, but free throws always seem to be their undoing. Not so for Meyers – he has a career average of 72% from the stripe.
In terms of true shooting percentage (every shot taken, not just field goals), Leonard was eighth in the Big Ten last season at 61.8%. His ability to shoot should prove helpful on any pick-and-roll situations that come up once he’s drafted.
That combination of physical gifts and basketball skills aren’t common in most 20 year olds, let alone some older players. His ability to shoot so well likely comes from his past, as he entered high school as a guard, but experienced a six inch growth spurt.
As I said above, every player has their flaws. Leonard is no exception, as he has been described as a raw talent and someone that could use motivation at times. His youth definitely plays a role in that, as he will seemingly forget that he’s over 7′ tall, and fade away from the basket.
Weight is also something that could be improved upon by Leonard. Despite being 250 pounds, he could stand to add muscle, or else he’ll get pushed around in the NBA. That’s something that is definitely achievable, especially with all the resources available to pro basketball players.
Leonard will be able to show Joe Dumars and company exactly what he can do in an upcoming draft workout scheduled for next Monday, July 25. The workout – featuring Henson, Jones, Sullinger, Zeller, and Terrence Jones – could ultimately decide the fate of whoever the Pistons do or don’t pick just three days later.
ESPN analyst Chad Ford had this to say about Leonard:
At this point in the draft, Leonard is risky but could have huge upside. (He’s) a work in progress, but has the size and athletic ability to be a dominant big man down the road.
Will the Pistons be willing to take the risk and select Leonard at nine? Do you think they can afford to wait and develop him alongside Greg Monroe?