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Leonard Ready to Put ‘Nightmare Year’ Behind Him

Meyers Leonard called last season “a nightmare.” Now, he’s in a better place and expects to bounce back.

Oliver Maroney

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Meyers Leonard hasn’t been able to catch a break since being drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers. As a 7-foot-1 center who can shoot the three and spread the floor, you’d think his transition from Illinois to the NBA would’ve been smoother. But it’s been difficult overcoming the high expectations of being a lottery pick (11th), along with being in a city housing only two major professional sports teams.

Coming into last season, Leonard was approaching his biggest year yet. In a contract year with a chance to prove himself as the Trail Blazers’ starting center, Leonard decided to bet on himself in hopes of landing a big contract.

However, it would only be nine games into the season before Leonard’s bet would start to look like a mistake. Against the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard dislocated his left shoulder, causing him to miss seven crucial games. So early into the season, the Blazers turned to other front-court options as Leonard received treatment on the shoulder.

Leonard would eventually lose his starting role to Noah Vonleh. His emotional state was clearly rattled, his overall mindset diminished.

“It was a complete nightmare last year,” Leonard said at Portland’s Media Day. “Last year was the hardest year of my life, not even close. I lied to my entire family the whole year. I told them I was okay, I wasn’t. I came from nothing and I turned down $40 million.”

Leonard was clearly in a bad place and ended up suffering a second shoulder injury that ended his season.

Now, after a full offseason of re-evaluation both mentally and physically, Leonard is feeling better than ever. He appeared reinvigorated and thrilled to be back with the Trail Blazers. After signing an extension for four years and $41 million this offseason, Leonard stated he’d be back in five-on-five drills starting October 8.

“Physically, I’m good,” Leonard said. “Mentally, I’m in the best place of my life.

“[The injury has] been a bit of a blessing in disguise. My mind is much clearer, I do a mind solitude every morning. My focus is aligned with what I know I need to do to be successful – on and off the court, with relationship to my wife, everything. So like I said, I’m in a very good spot in my life. I believe everything happens for a reason and I’m flat out excited for what the future holds.”

Leonard is a player who can help this Blazers team. His versatility and skill set can provide the Blazers with outside shooting, court spacing and a defensive mismatch for opposing teams. While Leonard’s defense has been up and down throughout his career, he’s had a lot of defensive responsibility placed on his shoulders early in his career. Playing against some of the most dominant bigs in the game like Dwight Howard, DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan, you can imagine why it was hard for the young center to hold his own on some nights.

When healthy, Leonard averaged 8.4 points and 5.1 rebounds in 21.9 minutes per game last season. Everyone knows he’s capable of more, both offensively and defensively, and he’s on the right path to regaining his form and potential.

His injury will set him back a few weeks, but the fact that he feels good about his rehabilitation and life is promising. He’s arguably the most versatile big man, with the highest ceiling, on Portland’s roster. It’s important to note that Leonard is only 24 years old and believes he hasn’t hit his peak.

“I think it’ll be fair to judge me when I’m 27,” Leonard said. “That’s just a random number, maybe. But I think that’s where I’ll finally figure everything out.”

Leonard must get back into basketball shape before he can be effective, but all signals point to his return coming sooner rather than later. His versatility and personality will help this team throughout the season – on and off the court.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts made a point of saying in his Media Day press conference that not all offseason additions are for October. That goes for the whole roster, but particularly for Leonard. The big man may not be ready come the first game of the season, but he could be asked to do a lot down the stretch.

Leonard is taking his recovery as well as possible, and owning up to some of the growth he needed to make. Expect him to bounce back and become an integral part of this promising Blazers team.

Oliver Maroney is an NBA writer for Basketball Insiders. He is based in Portland and covers the league as a whole.

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Legacy

Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

Basketball Insiders

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From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding new voices for the 2020-21 NBA Season, and what we are looking for is very specific.

Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.

Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.

If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:

Your Name:

The NBA Market You Live Near:

And Why We Should Consider You:

We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful.

Please send all of this to: openings2021@basketballinsiders.com

 

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Headlines

#17 – Aleksej Pokusevski – Oklahoma City Thunder

David Yapkowitz

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With the 17th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select Aleksej Pokusevski from Serbia. The Thunder completed a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire the pick.

Pokusevski is a long term project, but one that has has an intriguing skillset. A 7-footer with good speed and quickness, Pokusevski plays like a wing and can pass like a guard. But, to truly thrive at the next level, Pokusevski will need to put on some serious weight.

Again, he’s a project. But Pokusevski’s ceiling is sky-high. And, with a rebuild ahead of them, the Thunder have more than enough time to work with him and ensure he reaches it.

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Mock Drafts

2020 NBA Mock Draft – The Final 60-Pick Mock

What a long and winding road the 20201 NBA Draft has been. While this draft cycle has seen its ups and down, the moment of truth if finally upon us.

Steve Kyler

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What a long and winding road the 20201 NBA Draft has been. While this draft cycle has seen its ups and down, the moment of truth if finally upon us.

Here is a final look at the 2020 Draft, and how it may play out in this final 60-pick Mock Draft of the 20202 NBA Draft process:

 

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