Editor's Note: Big thanks to Andrew Millen for writing up this great piece
On one hand, it’s unfair to directly compare Jon Leuer and Ed Davis. The two forwards have completely different styles, different games, different strengths. But they stand in line together behind Zach Randolph, and one’s minutes will come out of the other’s pot. To anyone who has waded through the Grizzlies first two sloppy preseason performances, Leuer has been a bright spot, albeit a milky and un-athletic one. To my eyes, Leuer looks like an untapped source of regular season production, one that has been overshadowed by Ed Davis’ promised potential.
Davis bills himself as a rebounding and shot blocking specialist, with a solid field goal percentage and a decent (at best) post game. The problem is, as anyone who watched him play 15 minutes a game last year saw, he is downright wispy on the block and tends to get shoved out by players his own size on rebounds. Now and then he compensates with sheer length, but he simply doesn’t have Zach Randolph’s gravity under the rim. (Davis’ shot blocking actually went up when he moved to Memphis, maybe because he faced more rotation players than starters coming off the bench.)
The Two Man Game
Looking into why Marc Gasol and Mike Conley work so well together.
If Davis doesn’t fundamentally improve his rebounding, either with added bulk or better balancing, his offense isn’t enough to even out his value. Yes, Davis shoots 50%+ from the floor, but his game is limited to high percentage attempts (dunks). He is simply inconsistent in back-to-the-basket and pick-and-roll situations, unless a lane to the basket opens up. Where Zach Randolph spends his time without the ball bullying defenders and digging into the paint, Davis floats around, sets half-hearted screens, and is often unsure of his next move by the time the ball reaches his hands. How many times did we see him covered by a defender he had beat, because he took a power dribble under the basket or shifted his feet before driving the lane?
I also want to mention Davis’ dreadful free throw percentage. Through two preseason games, he is 7 of 17 (2-10 last night) from the stripe, so it looks like all those hours in the gym with a shooting coach really…never happened.
I don’t want to seem too down on Davis, especially since he is currently the heir apparent to Z-Bo and showed great promise in Toronto. When his game is flowing, Davis is a joy to watch. The problem I’m getting at is his tendency to lull on offense and his troubling incompatibility with Memphis’ bread and butter offensive and defensive schemes.
Jon Leuer is almost literally the other side of the spectrum at power forward. He’s essentially a stretch 4 with a solid midrange game, but he also brings in a handful of (usually long) rebounds and is aware enough with the ball to find open teammates with smart passes. Remind you of someone?
Marc Gasol, not playing, goes over to coach Jon Leuer up during the timeout.— Geoff Calkins (@geoff_calkins) October 10, 2013
I’ve written before about the similarity of Leuer’s and Gasol’s games. Unlike Davis, Leuer is an established pick-and-roll asset and, frankly, no one is in a hurry to pressure him on the elbow. He jumper isn’t the most reliable -- if it was, he would be much better known around the league -- but in watching him through the first two preseason games, he seems more comfortable and confident on offense than he did all last year. Against Chicago, he tallied 9 points and 5 rebounds. Last night in FedEx Forum, he racked up 17 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals in what might be his most minute-intensive game all year (34).
Leuer really is an all-around player, as those lines show. But it’s the look of his game that’s really impressive. The reserve unit actually schemes plays around Leuer, handing him the ball at the top of the key or on the wing and letting him chose the next pass (he rarely, if ever, shoots first). Against the Bulls, Leuer played Marc Gasol to Mike Miller’s Rudy Gay, leading Miller with a pass between two defenders on a baseline cut. The interior D collapsed, and the ball returned to Leuer on the wing, where he hit a wide open jumper. His flow and feeling for the game cannot be understated. After giving the ball away at one end against Dallas, he jumped in front of a pass and took it the other way for a break away dunk to make up for it. He can disrupt lazy post passes and smother smaller players when they try to beat him to the rim.
Leuer is the ideal bench player, too. Davis struggled -- understandably -- playing in Lionel’s doghouse last season. He only saw significant minutes when Randolph was nursing injury, but even then, his game by game numbers shrunk out of proportion to his minutes. Simply put, Davis plays better in more minutes: his field goal percentage goes from 38% in under 10 minutes to 60% in over 40. Leuer on the other hand has the mentality of a bench player, one that is ready to step in and do whatever’s needed, say when the starters struggle to put away a pesky Charlotte team.
Leuer simply hasn’t seen enough game time to project his overall value to the team, but the point of this post is this: Ed Davis has seen enough game time, and I remain unimpressed. I dearly hope Davis blossoms into a viable Zach Randolph replacement, but in the mean time, let’s see if Jon Leuer is as valuable as his teasing minutes suggest.
More from Grizzly Bear Blues:
- Six Idiosyncrasies of the Memphis Grizzlies - Which should stay and which should go?
- NBA Preseason Game Recap: Mavericks 95 Grizzlies 90 - A Tale of Two...Somethings.
- 2013-14 Memphis Grizzlies Player Preview: Marc Gasol
- 2013-14 Memphis Grizzlies Player Preview: Jon Leuer
- Four Ways the Memphis Grizzlies can improve in the 2013-14 NBA season