Jon Leuer 2017-18 season outlook

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MARCH 19: Jon Leuer /

In our series of season outlooks for the players on the 2017-18 Detroit Pistons roster, we’ll run through expectations for each. Next up is Jon Leuer.

How soon we forget that for the first two and a half months of the 2016-17 season, Jon Leuer was the best performing player on the Detroit Pistons’ roster. He brought steady defense and reliable offense off the bench, but things changed in the middle of December.

Stan Van Gundy decided to change the starting lineup following a dreadful road loss to the Chicago Bulls, planning on altering the rotation for the next game against the Memphis Grizzlies. The morning of the game, Leuer (who was going to be starting in place of Tobias Harris) got into a car accident on his way to practice. He didn’t start, but he played 30 minutes off the bench and scored 18 points on 13 shots.

The next game, against the Golden State Warriors, Leuer played 33 minutes and scored 8 points. On the season, Leuer was significantly better coming off the bench than as a starter. He had a net rating of +1.5 as a reserve, but was a dreadful -6.4 when on the floor in games where he started. He had a true shooting percentage of 58.6 percent as a reserve, but a woeful 51.3 percent as a starter.

Related Story: Eric Moreland talks free throws and confidence

Much of this can be attributed to playing many of his minutes as a starter with a disfunctional starting lineup, including a broken and diminished Reggie Jackson for much of the season and a similarly diminished Kentavious Caldwell-Pope following his mid-January shoulder injury. The bench unit (under the leadership of Ish Smith at point guard) simply functioned better than the starting lineup, and Leuer both benefited and aided in that.

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This season, the trade of Marcus Morris has placed the forward rotation in a state of flux. With Morris gone, the starting forward rotation will surely be altered. Some combination of two of Leuer, Tobias Harris or Stanley Johnson will start (almost surely), with the odd man out being the first big coming off the bench. Leuer was so much better with the reserves last year that it might make sense to go back to what worked, but Harris was also significantly better when playing with the bench unit.

Leuer will also have added utility playing backup minutes at the five behind Andre Drummond. He may find himself often being the de facto reserve center, as it’s very unlikely that Van Gundy trusts Boban Marjanovich with that important role one bit more than he did a year ago when he nailed him to the bench for much of the season. Leuer is a reliable defender and he can hit free throws at a high rate, meaning he may get significant late-game minutes if Drummond is hacked and Boban’s matchup is unfavorable.

Leuer’s dropoff last season was significant, but it’s important to remember how good he was and can be. It seems as though he had major confidence issues from the middle of the season onward, as when he would miss a couple threes he would start drifting inside the three-point line, effectively killing the Pistons’ spacing and placing himself in a spot where he’s only going to be taking low-expectation shots.

Next: Improved perimeter defense and Andre Drummond

If Leuer can come off the bench, most of his matchups will be more favorable. He won’t be exposed against superior big men, he’ll have less reason for his confidence to waver, and he can focus on filling his role. Jon Leuer can play a valuable part for the Detroit Pistons, and it’s important that he’s utilized appropriately.