T.J. Leaf had an unquestionably good freshmen season at UCLA. Past his stats are where the questions begin. As it stands right now, he is basically a step too slow to be a small forward. He is also 15 pounds too light to be an impact power forward. That doesn’t mean this can’t change.
His ability to stretch the floor with his shot makes him a stereotypical four man in today’s NBA. This strength also makes him quite similar to a player that the Denver Nuggets may be losing this summer in Danilo Gallinari.
His draft stock is similar to his game in the sense of being a tweener. As a projected early 20’s pick, he falls perfectly between the two places where the Nuggets draft. Denver has pick No. 13 and its’ two second round picks (No. 49 and No. 51). He’s surely not going to fall to the second round so Denver’s only opportunity to scoop him up would be with pick No. 13. Forget where he’s projected to fall, if he’s the best player available, that’s who the Nuggets should take.
With that said, here’s why he may be the best player available at that selection: Something very key in evaluating the best player available is evaluating minutes for them. As stated before, he may be able to find time at the “positionless” four man position that Gallinari played. He certainly won’t be gifted these minutes as long as Juancho Hernangomez is around. Minutes should be to be spared for him no matter what.
Production, Production, Production
More arguments in his favor are that he’s not built entirely off potential. He’s actually produced on a winning team before. He touts himself as a player who averaged just over 16 points and eight rebounds per game on over 61% shooting from the field and over 46% from beyond the arc for a 31-5 team. Not a bad resume at all.
Outside of his shooting, he has shown the ability to play pro-style basketball by being able to get up and down the court with a top prospect NBA point guard. He also has a niche for getting open in transition with his high basketball IQ. Maybe most intriguing to those in the NBA circles is how dangerous he is in pick-and-roll situations.
In case you haven’t watched NBA basketball in the last year or two, the name of the game is pick-and-roll/pop whether it be on offense or defense. Defensively, as mentioned he may not be quick enough to be a small forward but no one is expecting him to play that position. He is a good enough athlete to keep from getting exposed on defense. He should be quick enough to keep most players in front of him and if not, he can make up for it as a skilled leaper and decent rim protector.
With a potential hole to fill at his position, Leaf may turn out to be the Nuggets best option with the No. 13 pick. He’s a prime candidate for the kind of player whose draft stock could skyrocket after workouts. He will be an interesting player to keep an eye on wherever he ends up.