#11: Meyers Leonard
With the eleventh pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers selected Meyers Leonard from Illinois. Last season, Leonard averaged 13.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. Throughout the pre-draft process, he emerged as one of the best big men in this draft class after solid workouts and impressive interviews.
In recent weeks, executives fell in love with Leonard’s potential. The 7’1 center turned 20 years old in February, and he’s still very early in his development. He’ll be somewhat of a project for Portland, but he has a lot of upside and room for improvement.
“It’s just an unbelievable feeling, first of all, to be considered one of the top prospects in this year’s draft,” Leonard said. “They have got a great organization, a good staff and I’m just going to come every single day and work as hard as possible.”
After drafting Damian Lillard with their first lottery pick, Portland went with Leonard to fill their second-biggest need. Leonard will be able to start at center for the Blazers next season.
“I’m going to come in and be a sponge and work as hard as possible,” Leonard said. “Obviously, with Portland, they have LaMarcus (Aldridge) at the four and I’m going to have to come in and prove myself first and foremost. But knowing that I have an opportunity in front of me to quite possibly start or just even be a factor in games my first year, it’s a great feeling. But at the same time, like I said, it’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication and learning a new game.”
He’s extremely athletic with a decent touch offensively. He’ll continue to improve his post-up moves. Defensively, he’s imposing with his impressive length, quickness and mobility.
Leonard is somewhat raw – he’s still working on his understanding and feel for the game. At Illinois, he was inconsistent at times and he battled with foul trouble. However, as he continues to develop and mature as a player, these concerns should go away.
“I didn’t have any guarantees,” Leonard said. “I just had my fingers crossed coming in. It’s a very exciting time for me and I couldn’t be happier than to be picked by the Trail Blazers.”