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Grizzlies Free Agency Profiles: Meyers Leonard

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Can Meyers Leonard bring some outside shooting and a bit of the Heat Culture to Memphis?

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2020 NBA Finals - Los Angeles Lakers v Miami Heat Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Meyers Leonard - Big, University of Illinois

28 years old, 7’0”, 7’3” wingspan, 260 pounds

Draft: 1st round, 11th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2012

NBA Experience: 8 seasons (7 with Portland Trail Blazers and 1 with Miami Heat)

Career Stats: 444 games played, 91 starts, 16.1 minutes per game, 6.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 48.2% field goal percentage, 81.1% free throw shooting, 12.0 PER, .104 win shares per 48 minutes.

2019-20 HIGHLIGHTS:

The Heat Culture made a statement in the NBA bubble. Jimmy Butler’s alpha-dog leadership, Bam Adebayo’s grit and brilliance, the development and spunk from Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, Erik Spolestra’s coaching wizardry, and Udonis Haslem’s godfather presence are some of the many things that embody that culture.

Another tale in this chapter’s Heat Culture was the sacrifice made in the bubble from Meyers Leonard.

Starting in all 49 of his appearances prior to the league’s shutdown, Leonard’s role shifted once they arrived in the Orlando bubble. The trade with the Memphis Grizzlies played a major factor, as they slid Jae Crowder in Leonard’s spot at the 4, and they valued Andre Iguodala’s defensive versatility and championship pedigree.

Leonard’s demeanor didn’t change much, as you could always see him exuberayting lots of energy on the bench. In a feature with Kurt Helin from NBC Sports, Erik Spoelstra praised Leonard upon the role change:

“Meyers is one of the most special people I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach and to be around...He is just an incredible human being and teammate. He has all our hearts. We will do anything for him because he is so pure.”

His approach through that sacrifice exhibited tremendous leadership. And when you combine that leadership with his stretch-5 skillset and size, he should be a nice bargain-bin free agent for a contender, or for a rebuilding team looking for veterans.

The Memphis Grizzlies would benefit from another big 3-point shooter like Leonard, but how likely is it that they sign him?


NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Numbers that may make Leonard

41.4. Leonard shot a 41.4% from beyond the arc on 2.5 attempts per game. He’s always been a good 3-point marksman, as he was at 38.5 percent in 393 games (7 seasons) in Portland. He was a great fit for Miami’s dribble-drive offense, as he spaced the floor for Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo’s pick-and-rolls, or Kendrick Nunn’s drives.

54.7. Leonard also shot a high-volume of 3s, as 54.7% of his field goal attempts came from downtown. This is a good indication that he’d thrive as a backup stretch-5, since he won’t take too many ill-advised shots.

79. Leonard converted on 79% of his shot attempts at the rim, which fell in the 94th percentile among big men — per Cleaning the Glass. He did a great job diving to the rim from the perimeter, serving as a beneficiary off drives and dump-off’s.


Numbers that may not make Leonard

0.5. Leonard is not a prolific shot-blocker, as he only averaged 0.5 blocks per 36 minutes. This isn’t a good stat for a 7-foot big man, though he also benefitted from playing next to a prolific rim protector like Adebayo. And maybe he’ll experience a similar luxury next to Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke.

9.1. Leonard only averaged 9.1 rebounds per 36 minutes, which isn’t terrible considering Clarke and Jackson both have lower marks there. However, you also want to surround those two with stronger rebounders, when those guys are running the 4.

3.5. Opponents shot 3.5% better on shots less than 6 feet from the basket. Again, not encouraging for a big man. The key, for his next team, would be to get him in the right coverages to maximize his size and minimize his minimal shot-blocking.

Pulse of Grizz Nation

Grizz Nation was not a fan of Meyers Leonard, and that’s understandable. He’s not a flashy name, one where fans are like hell yeah, let’s sign that guy! It’s also easy to see why they may not want him, given the construction of the Grizzlies’ big man depth, and the evergreen need to add more wings.

Regardless, adding Meyers Leonard on a small one-year deal in Anthony Tolliver’s role would be a steal for this Grizzlies team.

The final offer?

NBA: Finals-Los Angeles Lakers at Miami Heat Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Meyers Leonard would be a strong veteran signing.

For starters, there’s a lot to say about someone who’s proven to be reliable in playoff situations. First, he torched Memphis from deep when he was with Portland in the 2015 playoffs, shooting 10-13 (76.9%) in the 5-game series loss. Last season, he stepped up in Jusuf Nurkic’s absence and even delivered a huge 30-point outing against the Golden State Warriors. And this season, he filled in for Bam Adebayo to start for games 3 and 4 of the Finals to throw in 14 points in 22 combined minutes, while the Heat won that time by 5.

When your 11th-ish man can come in and contribute in the playoffs, that’s massive.

In addition, I like his fit with the Grizzlies’ bench more than I do the other reserve bigs not named Brandon Clarke. At the 5, he’d serve as a nice floor spacer, who’d give Tyus Jones and Clarke ample spacing to operate in the pick-and-roll. He’d also be another shooter the Grizzlies’ guards can kick out to in dribble-drive scenarios.

And if he’s thrusted into the starting lineup for injury reasons, he’d open up driving lanes for Ja Morant and Justise Winslow. He also wouldn’t take shots away from either Morant or Jaren Jackson Jr., and his looks will either be from deep or at the rim — an analytics dream shot chart.

On top of that, he’d be a great veteran presence that can both contribute on the floor and help sustain the great culture the team was building last season. If the Memphis Grizzlies had a shot to make Meyers Leonard the 4th big man on the roster, they shouldn’t budge.

Ultimately, I doubt they’d explore the market for another big, as long as Gorgui Dieng’s $17M is on the books. If there’s a deal for him to be made though, or if the Grizzlies part with Jontay Porter, Meyers Leonard would fit in its rotation and its culture.

Final offer: The Grizzlies should sign Meyers Leonard to a 1-year, $4M deal. However, I see him signing a similar deal with a contender.

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