Indiana Pacers: 5 reasons T.J. Leaf was a good pick
The Indiana Pacers chose UCLA forward T.J. Leaf with the No. 18 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Here are five reasons that Leaf was a good pick for Indiana.
Despite this, life goes on for Kevin Pritchard and the Pacers as they redevelop their team-building strategy in the wake of the Paul George announcement.
Part of that plan includes the 2017 NBA Draft, and Indiana used the 18th overall selection on UCLA power forward T.J. Leaf.
Leaf declared for the draft after one college basketball season in which he averaged 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Leaf shot a stellar 62 percent from the field for the Bruins as a freshman.
T.J. Leaf may have been overshadowed by his more famous teammate, Lonzo Ball, but Leaf is a very good prospect in his own right.
Lowkey disrespectful that in TJ Leaf’s draft interview (the proudest/most exciting moment of his life) they ask him about Lonzo’s fit in LA
— Brandon Awadis (@brawadis) June 23, 2017
Some NBA observers point to Leaf’s slender frame, lack of elite athleticism and low ceiling as a defender as reasons to think he will not become an impact player at the next level.
However, there is plenty to like about T.J. Leaf’s game, and this piece will focus on five reasons that Leaf was a good pick for the Pacers at No. 18 overall.
5. Passing ability
T.J. Leaf has a variety of things to offer as a basketball player, and one of those is his ability to facilitate from the power forward spot.
Leaf has good court vision for a 6’10” player, and he has shown a willingness to pass the ball to open teammates when he doesn’t have a good shot available.
His assist totals weren’t extremely high last season, but part of that can be attributed to Lonzo Ball having the ball in his hands much of the time and dishing out 7.6 dimes per contest for the Bruins.
When T.J. Leaf had the opportunity to pass out of the high post or off the drive, he was very effective at moving the ball and setting up teammates for good looks.
Leaf may not be a big scorer in the NBA right away, so his passing skills are not to be overlooked when evaluating his potential contributions to the Pacers in the early part of his pro career.
Young players who can see the floor and make solid passes are not easy to find — young big men who have those skills are even more rare.
4. High basketball IQ
T.J. Leaf is only 20 years old, but he has basketball knowledge and court sense that you typically don’t see in players of that age.
Leaf does a great job of playing within himself while also playing with passion. He doesn’t force the issue; if he’s open, he’ll shoot it; if he’s not, he’ll keep the ball moving.
He recognizes when he has an advantage on his defender, and generally cashes in on those opportunities. He’s not a lockdown defender, but he moves his feet and positions himself well when playing individual or team defense.
Nate McMillan on TJ Leaf: “A very skillful big guy that can spread the floor. His basketball IQ is very high.”
— Nate Taylor (@ByNateTaylor) June 23, 2017
Part of being a smart basketball player is doing the “little things” on the court, and Leaf excels in this area.
Moving without the ball seems to be a lost art these days, but Leaf does that well, creating high-percentage scoring opportunities as the result of his constant movement.
Some players just seem to have an innate feel for the game, and T.J. Leaf has that quality — this is one of the reasons that he projects to be a “safe” pick at No. 18.
3. Plays hard all the time
Another asset in T.J. Leaf’s arsenal is his motor. Leaf does not take plays off. He’s a high-energy guy who combines that with an impressive set of skills.
Leaf capitalizes on his non-stop motor in a variety of ways. He goes after loose balls, he wears down the defense with his movement off the ball and he is a relentless rebounder, especially on the offensive glass.
Make no mistake about it: playing hard is a skill, and it’s a skill that T.J. Leaf possesses. He is aggressive on the court and plays with confidence, which are great signs for a player who is coming into the NBA after only one year of college basketball.
There is always a place in pro basketball for high-effort players, even when that is virtually the only ability they can offer at the NBA level.
Leaf gives consistent effort, but he is not a one-trick pony in that regard — he is also a talented and accomplished offensive player who can add a great deal to a Pacers team that is currently in transition.
T.J. Leaf’s motor is yet another reason that most scouts feel he has a high floor. He may never be a superstar, but he will certainly be a solid contributor (at the very least).
2. Biggest weakness is the easiest to correct
Most young frontcourt players need to bulk up and add strength upon entering the NBA, and T.J. Leaf is no exception to that edict. He stands 6’10”, but only weighs 225 pounds coming out of UCLA.
Leaf’s slight frame is cited by many scouts as the primary weakness in his game. The good news? This deficiency is very correctable, particularity with all the tools Leaf will have at his disposal as a member of the Indiana Pacers.
Once T.J. Leaf joins the association, he will have all the resources he needs to gain weight and strength. Nutritionists, strength and conditioning coaches — you name it.
The remaining part of this process is up to Leaf: He needs to have the discipline and work ethic to eat a healthy diet, as well as put in the time in the weight room.
A fan sitting behind me just yelled at TJ Leaf, “Get in the weight room 22.”
— Anthony Crawford (@a_craw_) December 3, 2016
It appears very likely that Leaf will be able to accomplish these goals. Frankly, it may be the easiest thing to change about a player.
Additionally, he is by all accounts a very hard worker, and his father is a former college and pro (overseas) basketball player, so Leaf has been schooled in professionalism from a very early age.
If lack of physical strength is indeed the biggest concern about T.J. Leaf, that is very good news for the Indiana Pacers.
1. Skilled and versatile offensively
Without a doubt, T.J. Leaf’s varied offensive skill-set is what made him a first round draft pick on June 22.
Leaf was not a volume three-point shooter in college, but he was very efficient, hitting 47 percent of his shots from beyond the arc — he certainly has the look of a prototypical NBA stretch-4.
He has also shown the ability to drive and/or pull up for midrange shots: Leaf posted an impressive 64 percent success rate on two-point field goal attempts as a college freshman.
T.J. Leaf’s versatility doesn’t end there — he also possesses solid post skills. He has good footwork down low, and has a variety of low-post moves that include jump hooks with either hand and turnaround jump shots.
As an offensive threat, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more complete player than T.J. Leaf; he can basically do it all on that end of the court.
Every player has pros and cons, and there are some questions about Leaf in terms of his body type, athleticism and defensive potential. However, Indiana did well with this pick considering they chose 18th overall.