After mild clamoring around Detroit for Ryan Anderson, Stan Van Gundy went out and signed Jon Leuer to a 4 year/$42 million contract. Leuer has started 45 games in his entire career. It's mind-boggling for anyone that is still getting acquainted to rising salary cap realities. In the past, a small-market team like the Pistons paying a rotation big over $10 million a year would have been touted as Vivek Ranadive-esque insanity. It's the kind of move that wreaks of "we couldn't catch a big fish and now we have to overpay a small one" desperation. But lo-and-behold, it's a pretty good move. In our vast, new frontier of NBA finance, where Mike Conley is the highest paid player ever, Jon Leuer for $10 million a year doesn't seem so bad (even though the newest cap estimates for next year are lower than previously thought). Put it this way: would you rather have Anderson -- a stretch 4 that doesn't rebound, regressed as an offensive player, and doesn't defend well -- for $20 million a year? Or would you rather have Leuer, who offers a similar skillset, for half the price?
Let's break down what Leuer offers the Pistons:
1. Stretch Big
Leuer is not a proven shooter. In fact, he hasn't played enough to be 'proven' at anything, really. But he attempted a career-high 1.6 three-pointers per game last season, and he knocked them down at a 38% clip, a decent rate considering he slumped hard from deep in January and March. Will he be consistent from behind the arc with a bigger role this season? We won't know until he plays, but as players get older their roles tend to become more defined, and Leuer should progress as a pick & pop shooter, especially playing alongside Andre Drummond. He's got good form, and just signed the biggest contract of his life, which should mean that he'll have the most invested training staff he's ever had to insure that his shooting progresses. It's a gamble, but it's a safe gamble at a good price that Leuer can provide spacing at either big position for Detroit.
2. Rotation Flexibility
Tobias Harris is already kind of a modern-day 4, but when Marcus Morris sits Harris is forced into a murky spacing situation. Although Harris likes to drive into the paint, and Drummond likes to roll into it, both guys need to operate around the basket. When Harris sits, the Pistons can toy with a gargantuan lineup featuring Morris, who's a decent outside shooter for his size, at the 3 and Leuer at the 4, replicating the basic geometry of Van Gundy's '4-out around Dwight Howard' Orlando offense. When Drummond sits, Leuer is big enough to play stints at the 5, although he's got a lanky frame and is a poor rim protector.
3. Crafty, Bouncy Slasher
Leuer isn't tethered to the ground like Ryan Anderson. He's longer, taller, and quicker than Anderson.
And he's a good interior passer that isn't as awkward off the dribble as most bigs his size. He keeps his head up on drives, doesn't run out-of-control into the teeth of the defense, and makes smart passes inside. He's also got a soft floater/hook hybrid from either block, although he can't muscle guys inside like DeMarcus Cousins.
To me, this is what separates him from Ryan Anderson. If Leuer can continue to show off his ability to scramble defenses off the dribble, it will:
- Prevent defenses from just running him off the three-point line or denying the ball too aggressively.
- Generate some big-to-big interior dump off passes between him and Drummond.
- Allow him to contribute in games when his shot isn't falling.
Basically, his upside probably isn't as high as Anderson in terms of sheer scoring production, but he's five times more versatile as a player, and that kind of jack-of-all-trades value is more in tune with Detroit's long-term needs. Credit Detroit's front office for smart spending this summer.
Next time on Meet X Free Agent: Boban Marjanovic. Stay tuned.
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