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Portland Trail Blazers: Is Meyers Leonard the Future at Center?

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Portland Trail Blazers: Is Meyers Leonard the Future at Center?
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The center spot has provided a lot of heartbreak for Portland Trail Blazers fans.

From the early days with Bill Walton to the '80s with Sam Bowie and most recently with Greg Oden, the Blazers have cycled through several big men over the years.

But have they finally found their big man of the future? Lottery pick Meyers Leonard has been the recipient of increased playing time as a result of the Blazers being out of the playoff picture and LaMarcus Aldridge sitting out due to injury.

The 11th overall pick from last year's draft has weaknesses for sure, but fans should be encouraged by Leonard's performances over the last week. In the last five games, including four starts, Leonard is averaging 13.4 points and 7.2 rebounds in 32.6 minutes.

His defense was supposed to be his strength and his offense was considered a work in progress coming out of Illinois, but it's been the complete reversal. Leonard has been solid offensively with his ability to set hard screens, roll to the basket and finish strong at the rim.

His outside shooting has been the biggest surprise, which was showcased in a 22-point, 10-rebound performance against Golden State on March 30. He even nailed his first career 3-pointer.

It may look a little unorthodox at times, but it's effective. He's also a solid free-throw shooter at 79.5 percent.

Zach Lowe of Grantland gave Leonard some love nationally, praising the young man as one of the things he was impressed with over the past week.

Leonard has shown he should be able to work as a refined jack-of-all-trades pick-and-roll big, slipping screens, cutting hard into space, and making solid and instant decisions about whether to pass, loft a floater, or roll for a dunk attempt. Sometimes those hard cuts suck in defenders, opening up things for teammates, without Leonard even touching the ball:

Meyers Leonard had a career night with 22 points and 10 rebounds against Golden State on March 30.

 

His biggest weakness, however, is undoubtedly his defense, which will hopefully come with time. Leonard told Mike Tokito of The Oregonian that it's been his largest adjustment to the NBA.

“I’m still trying to learn how to guard one-on-one in the post,” he said. “It’s a big difference going from college where I just use my athleticism and sat behind guys, to where I’m playing in the NBA, banging bodies every time down the court. And having to guard a guy that’s just completely skilled, it’s something that I’m just not used to right now. I gotta continue to watch film and understand guys’ tendencies and such.”

Leonard has been a pleasant surprise and gives fans one of the few reasons to watch the remaining seven games. The Blazers do not need him to be a 20-10 player alongside LaMarcus Aldridge.

All they need is for him to become a presence on the defensive end, rebound the ball, set hard picks and nail the open 12- to 17-foot jumpers. If he does those things, he can become Portland's center of the future.

Many fans would be happy if he developed into a player like ex-Blazer Joel Przybilla with an offensive game. The Blazers had opportunities to draft big men Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Andrew Nicholson or Fab Melo with the 11th pick, but they made the right decision by banking on Leonard's potential.

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