Friday, July 27, 2012

What can the Trail Blazers expect from Meyers Leonard this season?

In order to forecast what Portland Trail Blazers rookie center Meyers Leonard could potentially do in his rookie season, I've taken on the task of breaking down every center drafted in the second half of the lottery from the 1997 through 2011 drafts to get a range of statistics, then do my best to predict what his rookie season might look like. Here are the players who fit that criteria:

1997 - #8 Adonal Foyle (Warriors) - 11.9 mins, 3.0 pts, 3.3 rebs, 0.9 blk, 40.6% FG
1998 - #12 Michael Doleac (Magic) - 15.9 mins, 6.2 pts, 3.0 rebs, 0.3 blk, 46.8% FG
           #13 Keon Clark (Magic) - 14.6 mins, 3.3 pts, 3.4 rebs, 1.1 blk, 45.0% FG
1999 - #12 Aleksander Radojevic (Raptors) - 8.0 mins, 2.3 pts, 2.7 rebs, 0.3 blk, 28.6% FG
2000 - #7 Chris Mihm (Cavaliers) - 19.8 mins, 7.8 pts, 4.7 rebs, 0.9 blk, 44.2% FG
           #9 Joel Przybilla (Bucks) - 8.2 mins, 0.8 pts, 2.2 rebs, 0.9 blk, 34.3% FG
           #12 Etan Thomas (Mavericks) - 13.1 mins, 4.3 pts, 3.9 rebs, 0.7 blk, 53.6% FG
2001 - #8 DeSagana Diop (Cavaliers) - 6.1 mins, 1.4 pts, 0.9 rebs, 0.3 blk, 41.4% FG
2002 - none
2003 - none
2004 - #8 Rafael Araujo (Raptors) - 12.5 mins, 3.3 pts, 3.1 rebs, 0.1 blk, 43.4% FG
           #11 Andris Biedrins (Warriors) - 12.8 mins, 3.6 pts, 3.9 rebs, 0.8 blk, 57.7% FG
           #12 Robert Swift (Sonics) - 4.5 mins, 0.9 pts, 0.3 rebs, 0.4 blk, 45.5% FG
2005 - #8 Channing Frye (Knicks) - 24.2 mins, 12.3 pts, 5.8 rebs, 0.7 blk, 47.7% FG
           #10 Andrew Bynum (Lakers) - 7.3 mins, 1.6 pts, 1.7 rebs, 0.5 blk, 40.2% FG
2006 - #10 Mouhamed Sene (Sonics) - 6.0 mins, 1.9 pts, 1.6 rebs, 0.4 blk, 36.7% FG
           #12 Hilton Armstrong (Hornets) - 11.3 mins, 3.1 pts, 2.7 rebs, 0.5 blk, 54.4% FG
2007 - #9 Joakim Noah (Bulls) - 20.7 mins, 6.6 pts, 5.6 rebs, 0.9 blk, 48.2% FG
           #10 Spencer Hawes (Kings) - 13.1 mins, 4.7 pts, 3.2 rebs, 0.6 blk, 45.9% FG
2008 - #10 Brook Lopez (Nets) - 30.5 mins, 13.0 pts, 8.1 rebs, 1.8 blk, 53.1% FG
2009 - none
2010 - #11 Cole Aldrich (Thunder) - 7.9 mins, 1.0 pts, 1.9 rebs, 0.4 blk, 53.3% FG
2011 - none

If you take a look at the 19 players on this list, you have four tiers of players.
All-NBA - 1 (Andrew Bynum)
Borderline All-Stars - 2 (Joakim Noah, Brook Lopez)
Regular rotation players - 7 (Spencer Hawes, Channing Frye, Andris Biedrins, Joel Przybilla, Chris Mihm, Etan Thomas, Adonal Foyle)
Fringe rotation players/busts - 9 (Michael Doleac, Keon Clark, Aleksander Radojevic, DeSagana Diop, Rafael Araujo, Robert Swift, Mouhamed Sene, Hilton Armstrong).

Out of all these players, ten received what I'd consider regular rotation minutes in their rookie seasons (Doleac, Clark, Mihm, Thomas, Araujo, Biedrins, Frye, Noah, Hawes, Lopez). Seeing that as of right now, Meyers Leonard is the only "true" center on the Blazers roster, I'll try and project based on the assumption he'll be receiving regular rotation minutes. Here's a corresponding breakdown of the minutes of those players that fit my requirements.

High: 30.5 (Lopez)
Average: 17.7
Low: 12.5 (Araujo)

Leonard may be the only "true" center on the roster, but J.J. Hickson saw regular playing time there last season, and both LaMarcus Aldridge and Joel Freeland could slide to the '5' as well. I currently think that Leonard is likely the fourth big man in the rotation. Aldridge will always get his minutes (his five-year average is 37.08 minutes/game), and the team will likely want to know what it potentially has with Hickson, who was re-signed to a one-year deal. Freeland signed a three-year, $9 million deal this offseason, and the Blazers wouldn't pay someone that kind of money to not see the court. so I'd expect him to be the first big man off the bench. Knowing what we do about the situation, I'd guess Leonard ends up with around 16 minutes/game.

Going on the forecast of Leonard seeing 16 minutes/game, here are the players within four minutes (12-20) of his guidelines, projected out to 16 minutes.

Doleac -  6.2 pts, 3.0 rebs, 0.3 blk
Clark - 3.6 pts, 3.7 rebs, 1.2 blk
Mihm - 6.3 pts, 3.8 rebs, 0.7 blk
Thomas - 5.3 pts, 4.8 rebs, 0.9 blk
Araujo - 4.2 pts, 4.0 rebs, 0.1 blk
Biedrins - 4.5 pts, 4.9 rebs, 1.0 blk
Hawes - 5.7 pts, 3.9 rebs, 0.7 blk

Average per 16 minutes - 5.1 pts, 4.0 rebs, 0.7 blk

Looking at these players, he's already a more refined offensive player than Biedrins, Araujo, Thomas and Clark were at this stage. Leonard should do a decent job on the boards with his combination of size and athleticism, but probably isn't the raw rebounder in the mold of Thomas, Araujo or Biedrins. As far as shot-blocking goes, Leonard should again project better than Doleac, Araujo and Hawes.
As far as the current roster in Portland, nobody is a near-elite to elite rebounder, with J.J. Hickson and LaMarcus Aldridge the team's two best. Leonard also seemed to have good chemistry with fellow rookie Damian Lillard in Summer League, and should be a solid threat in the pick and roll. By factoring in his areas of strengths and weaknesses, as well as team strengths and projecting out to 16 minutes, here's my final projection for Meyers Leonard's rookie campaign:

6.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 16.0 minutes

I see Leonard as the fourth big man in the rotation, though how quickly he develops, as well as the Blazers on-court success (or failure) and potential frontcourt injuries could result in a spike in minutes and an increase in my projected statistics.

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