The Miami Heat got back Meyers Leonard in the trade that sent Hassan Whiteside to the Portland Trailblazers. But...most casual NBA fans probably don’t know what to expect from the center who will come over and likely be a back-up center to Bam Adebayo.
1. How would you describe Meyers Leonard’s game?
Leonard’s game mostly revolves around his 3-point shot, which is quite the transformation from the player he was in college. He went from attempting just 12 threes in two seasons at Illinois to taking 228 threes in the 2015-16 season alone.
Leonard’s ability to shoot leads to harder closeouts from defenders, and that’s where you see a sneaky-good part of his game: passing. If the shot isn’t there, he’s not one to force one up just for the sake of it. He is one to diligently pick his spots and willingly pass the ball off to a teammate if he doesn’t feel good about a shooting opportunity. He was one of Portland’s strongest options in the pick-and-roll/pop given his size, shooting and passing.
But, Leonard’s willingness to defer is something that keeps him from having a greater impact on games. You can basically see him thinking through situations on the court rather than acting on instinct. I believe he always wants to make the right play, but this sometimes stops him from taking even open threes, and it delays the offense when he’s at the top of the key desperately searching for someone to hand the ball off to.
2. Leonard shot a pretty decent percentage from three last season, is he a threat from deep or are teams content giving him that?
I think it’s a mix of both. Anyone who’s a career 38.5% shooter from deep is someone you have to be aware of in the game plan, and someone you likely don’t want to give too many open looks to during a game. But on the flip side, teams were so worried about stopping Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum that they were content with giving up some open shots to players like Leonard, Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu.
Leonard doesn’t command the fierce closeouts reserved for capital-S Shooters in the league like Klay Thompson, but defenses have to honor the threat of Leonard’s shooting.
3. What’s the weakest part of his game?
His overall athleticism is pretty lacking, which affects his impact on both sides. He’s not going to be an over-the-top lob/put-back threat on offense. He’s not going to sky for rebounds on defense either. The 7-foot-1 big man is pretty grounded during the course of the game. He’s also not quick, so smaller, faster players have little problems breaking him down on drives.
You see Leonard’s lack of athleticism especially when he closes out on shooters, as he isn’t fast enough or bouncy enough to disrupt shots frequently. Going off that, blocked shots were very few during his time in Portland. The most blocked shots he registered was 38 (his rookie year); last season he blocked nine total shots over 878 minutes played.
4. How do you see him fitting in as a backup behind Bam Adebayo in Miami?
I think Leonard and Adebayo complement each other in that they each bring their own style of play. Adebayo has more athleticism to his game, crushing Leonard last season in rebounds per game (7.3 to 3.8), total blocks (65 to 9), total steals (71 to 13) and made dunks (117 to 48). Leonard had the obvious edge in shooting last season, making 50 threes in 61 games, compared to Adebayo’s 3 made threes in 82 games.
Leonard simply provides Miami with another shooting option off the bench. I do wonder what kind of role he will have in the second unit with another stretch big in Kelly Olynyk already established. Leonard bounced around Portland’s rotation from garbage time player to spot starter and everywhere else in between. He knows how to play his role, however large or small that is.
5. What should we know about Meyers Leonard the person?
I think he is one of the easiest guys in the league to root for. He has a certain innocence and easy going charm that makes it impossible to not like him as a person.
Leonard did face some nasty treatment from certain Blazer fans who felt he never lived up to the expectations of a No. 11 overall pick. He became a scapegoat to take frustrations out on when the team lost or struggled (which was almost never his fault, given his spotty role).
And despite what he had to endure at times, Leonard was an absolute professional during his seven years with the Blazers, as I wrote in my goodbye post to him on Blazer’s Edge. He gave back to the community. He never complained or caused issues. He was a core part of the culture that the team has built in Portland. I’m sure Heat fans will appreciate that.