In last week’s draft, Illinois’ own Meyers Leonard was chosen at 11th overall by the Portland Trailblazers. After their last failed attempt at a highly touted big man (Greg Oden), the Blazers are hoping (at this point they are probably on their knees praying) that Leonard can help improve their front-court.
The Trailblazers have a plethora of free agents at a multitude of positions and this could prove to be a huge chance for Leonard to see the court very early in his career. Prior to the draft, there was much concern around the league about Leonard’s maturity on and off the court. He attributed this misconception to the fact that he cares so much about the game and hates nothing more than losing. Apparently, that excuses him from crying on the court.
Regardless, he flipped the script on these critics by nailing his pre-draft interviews and killing it at pre-draft workouts. It looks like the Trailblazers bought into what Leonard had to say and show. Now, with Nicolas Batum, Jamal Crawford, Raymond Felton, Jonny Flynn, JJ Hickson, Joel Pryzbilla, Craig Smith, Hasheem Thabeet, and Shawne Williams all becoming free agents, the Blazers have a lot of issues to address.
The only player besides Leonard who will stand above 6-9 is LaMarcus Aldridge. The good news is that Leonard will be able to learn a lot from the shooting ability and heady moves of Aldridge and the ol’ wiley vet Kurt Thomas. If Leonard can get stronger and learn how to shoot, he and Aldridge could be a very tough duo down low.
With the loss of Brandon Roy, the Trailblazers are really hoping that their new big man (or big boy) can help produce early to avoid a disappointing season. Even with the loss of Brandon Roy, The Trailblazers have some potential (pending a few good resignings) with guys like Aldridge, Jamal Crawford (FA), Raymond Felton (FA), Jonny Flynn (FA), Wesley Matthews, Nolan Smith, and now, Leonard. We’ll see if they make any big moves on other free agents because right now, they clearly lack the dominator or superstar calliber player that Roy provided them with.
It looks like Leonard landed in an ideal situation to see some NBA action right away. He may go through a learning period, but being surrounded by guys such as Kurt Thomas and LaMarcus Aldridge will help this period go a lot smoother. Hopefully, this Illinois alum can help Portland blaze a new trail.
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