Meyers Leonard may not be a household name to those outside of Big Ten country. But he’s gaining attention. The 7-footer’s play was one of few positive for the Illinois Fighting Illini in 2011-12, when they finished ninth in the Big Ten (17-15, 6-12).
However, the fact that Leonard tips the scale at 240-245 pounds (varies from site to site) and is a towering specimen should be enough for him to get several, several early first-round looks during the 2012 NBA Draft, despite Illinois’ struggles. He’s projected to be the 12th overall pick (according to SI.com’s Sam Amick), landing with the Milwaukee Bucks, who traded center Andrew Bogut to Golden State in March.
Perhaps the Bucks will look to replace Bogut with Leonard, who led the Big Ten with 60 blocks, finished second in rebounding (8.2 per game) and second in field goal percentage (.584).
Although just a sophomore with one solid year of college play under his belt, Leonard could find himself landing in the top 10, depending on how the draft shakes out. With the likes of UConn’s Andre Drummond and North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller anticipated to be drafted first, it’s likely that Leonard will be the third center taken June 28.
Leonard is viewed as an ideal center by a handful of NBA draft web sites. The consensus opinion seems to be one of potential. Rather than judging Leonard by what he did in college, NBA enthusiasts should think of what Leonard will develop into.
He has a decent mid-range jump shot. That we know for sure. He was eighth in the Big Ten in 2011-12 with a true shooting percentage of .618. The true percentage calculates every shot, not just field goals. Simply put, Leonard made almost 62 percent of attempts, regardless of type. Part of Leonard’s upside is the fact that he’s a good free-throw shooter for a player his size, knocking down about 73 percent of shots from the stripe.
He has the ability, due to his style of play, to draw a lot of contact. In some cases, a center with that much intensity isn’t always a great trait — foul trouble will surely follow. But Leonard demonstrated the ability to control his lanky frame. Considering the position, coming in at ninth in the Big Ten in terms of total fouls suggests Leonard knows how and when to regulate his attitude — just another positive trait for a potential early first-round pick.
A team like the Detroit Pistons could take a look at Leonard. The Pistons pick ninth in the draft, and are all but certain to take a center. However, some mock drafts have Detroit taking North Carolina power forward John Henson. But others have the Pistons selecting Zeller, who, in theory, would be the smarter choice considering college pedigree.
However, Leonard is a player that might be worth gambling on for teams with top 10 picks. There aren’t many big men with the athleticism of Leonard. He’s a budding defender a adequate scorer who should have a productive NBA career.