Leading up to the NBA Draft we will be analyzing scouting reports for various players who have entered their name in this year’s NBA Draft. The focus of these articles will be on prospects who we find most intriguing and feel readers need to become more familiar. Please let us know if you want any players specifically @edupridepress. All stats and videos are via KenPom, ESPN, DraftExpress, and YouTube.
T.J. Leaf – UCLA
Weight: 222 lbs
Age: 20 years
Projected: 18 (CPP Big Board) 20 (CPP Mock Draft)
Background: With much of UCLA’s success attributed to the emergence of Michael Jordan, I mean, Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf flew under the radar and played a huge role in the Bruins’ season. Before he stepped on campus in Westwood, Leaf was ranked 13th in the 2016 Class ESPN100 rankings and was selected to be a McDonald’s All-American. This past year, Leaf averaged 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds for UCLA and shot 64.4% from the field. Based on the numbers, there’s no question Leaf is a productive player as he is very efficient on the offensive end. At the 2017 NBA Draft Combine, Leaf measured a 6-foot-11 wingspan with an 8-foot-11 standing reach. Leaf is a long stretch four who is very fluid with his body and can hit at a consistent rate from 15 feet and beyond.
Strengths: At 6-foot-10, Leaf is the ideal height for an NBA power forward. While watching Leaf play, the first thing that stands out is how well he moves for his size. UCLA is known for playing at a very fast pace which benefited Leaf as he was able to show off his versatility in the open floor which will transcribe to the next level. Another rare thing you see with Leaf is how well he controls the ball. Not often can 6-foot-10 forwards grab a rebound and start a fastbreak like Leaf can. At UCLA, with the fast run and gun style, Leaf was given the green light to ignite the offense in transition and show guards don’t have to start the fastbreak. Arguably Leaf’s biggest asset to his game is how many different ways he can put the ball in the bucket. Leaf shot 64.4% percent from 2s and 46.6 on his 3-point tries, two very solid numbers for someone who played around 30 minutes a game in one of the most competitive conferences in the nation this year. Although not the most flashy player, Leaf manages to get the job done on the offensive end which is evident in how competent he was this year for the Bruins.
Weaknesses: Let’s be real. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen UCLA play at least once in the 2016-17 season. And as we all know, the Bruins played no defense. So, the biggest question mark with Leaf is how can he keep up on the defensive side of things in the NBA. Leaf is not the strongest player around the rim. So, on defense, he had a tough time getting physical inside the paint and struggled with the physicality of some opponents. It’s plain and straightforward. If you can’t keep up on defense, you aren’t going to get a lot of minutes. While I rambled about how great of an offensive proponent Leaf is, there is still something missing in his repertoire. Leaf spends a majority of his time on the perimeter in half-court sets. The reason behind that, he struggles finishing around the rim and absorbing contact inside. If Leaf wants to become a great two-way player offensively, he’s going to need to add some muscle and find a way to bulldoze defenders inside to make an impact down low.
Comparison: David Lee
Leaf is such an intriguing and unique prospect that there’s no real clear-cut comparison for him. T.J. is more of a finesse type forward in contrast to Lee who is pretty physical but also has shown he can step outside and hit a mid-range jumper. There’s no doubt in my mind that Leaf can become a player very similar to Lee in regards to becoming an active force inside finishing around the rim and collecting rebounds which will make him a vital piece for any team. But, for that to happen, Leaf has to add some muscle to his frame and fit into a system which will allow him to excel into an impactful all around offensive player.
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Photo via Sporting News