On July 10th, 2016, Meyers Leonard inked a 4 year deal worth $41 million dollars with the Trail Blazers as a restricted free agent.
Let’s take a deep dive on Leonard as a player and see if the Blazers made a good investment.
Offensive Skills and Production
Meyers Leonard is a 7’1 big man who shoots the ball like a guard.
In the 2015-2016 NBA season, he played only 61 games after returning from a shoulder injury, but he knocked down 86 shots from beyond the arch at 37.7%. In his career, he has made 38.5% from distance and 48.9% from the field. By comparison, that is better than Ryan Anderson’s 37.7% from 3 and 42.3% from the field.
Did I forget to mention that Anderson got 4 years and $80 million from the Houston Rockets?
Anderson has a longer track record of NBA success, is 4 years older and has a reputation as a dead-eye 3 point shooter. Leonard shoots the 3 point at a higher percentage, a valuable commodity in an NBA where the 3 point shot is very much in vogue.
Leonard has the offensive skill that seems most in demand in today’s NBA. He is a stretch PF/C with height and length, but he lacks the ability to attack the basket due to a lack of strength and overall quickness.
Here is a look at his shot chart from last season.
As you can see, Leonard loves to shoot 3’s, but it is an effective part of his game. He is also very effective from the mid-range and high paint areas. He shot only 11.42% of his shots in the restricted area last season.
He's a stretch big in every sense of the phrase.
Leonard also has the ability to handle the ball a bit; he bumped his assists to 1.5 per game last season. He, also, draws a big man out of the paint by making them respect his jump shot, allowing teammates to collect offense rebounds.
Overall, I find Leonard to be a skilled big man that has an offensive game almost every team values in the current NBA.
Defensive Skills and Production
This is where Leonard’s game fall down a little bit.
He is tall and long, but he lacks the girth of a center and the quickness of a wing, making thing problematic for him on this end of the floor. Leonard averaged 5.1 rebounds, 0.1 steals, and 0.3 blocks per game last season, which are just atrocious numbers for a 7’1 big man.
If you look at his defensive shot chart, below, it tells a different story.
The chart shows he held his man below league average from every spot on the floor, except for left corner 3’s and top of the key 3 pointers.
For a guy who gets a bad defensive wrap, the stats tell a different tale. He can guard his man and force him to shoot below league average percentages, even if he isn’t grabbing 10 boards a game or blocking shots.
It's obvious that Meyers Leonard needs to improve his defensive numbers. No man that big should only grab 5 boards a game and block less than a shot every 3 games. He is a better defensive player than he gets credit for though, and at worst, his offensive game outweighs the minimal negative defensive contributions he creates.
Let’s take a look at some advanced metrics to see how Meyers Leonard stacks up. Offensive box score plus/minus for his career is negative 1.2. His defensive box score plus/minus is negative 0.5. For his career, he is actually a better defensive player than offensive using the box score plus/minus statistic.
Leonard’s value over replacement player (VORP) is 0.3 for his career. Using win shares per 48 minutes (league average is approximately .100) he rates at .103 (All advanced metrics courtesy for Basketball-Reference).
Leonard rates as an above average NBA player for his 4-year career to date by these metrics, which is impressive for a player who is just 24 years old and has his prime years ahead of him. It shows that in his time on the court he is already making a positive contribution to his team and he has room to grow both in terms of minutes and output.
Another contributing factor to Leonard only playing limited minutes throughout his career has been injuries. He played a career-high 69 games in his rookie season of 2012-2013, and had no reported injuries.
Let’s take a look at the injuries he has sustained and whether they have an effect on his value moving forward.
His first career injury was a sprained left ankle on February 18th, 2014. This was a one-off injury and he has not had a problem with either ankle since. He, also, suffered a one-off right shoulder sprain on November 4th, 2015. Neither of these injuries should be worrisome moving forward.
The potentially problematic injury area seems to be his left shoulder.
He first sprained the shoulder on December 30th, 2014, then dislocated twice in November 2015 and March 2016 (All injuries courtesy of Fox Sports). Leonard underwent a surgery to repair a torn labrum in that shoulder in April 2016 (Courtesy of Oregon Live). The recovery from the surgery is 6 to 8 months.
Leonard’s offensive game is that of an effective jump shooter, who stretches the floor and handles the ball when necessary. His defensive numbers are definitely lacking, but he makes up for it by using his length to provide above average shot defense. The advanced metrics rate Leonard as an above average NBA player.
So is he worth 4 years and $41 million dollars?
The answer is unequivocal, yes.
The cap jumped this year from $70 million last season to $94.143 million, and is projected to rise again in each of the 4 years of the contract ending at $109 million in the last year of the deal.
To pay a 7’1, 24-year-old who has already shown he is an above average player before even reaching his prime years $10.25 for the next 4 years (roughly one tenth of the cap in each of the 4 years) is good business. Portland now has a nice rotation big for the duration of the contract and a great trade chip for a team looking for a stretch big on a valuable contract.