According to Nate Taylor of the IndyStar, the Pacers interviewed UCLA’s T.J. Leaf at the NBA Combine this past week. Leaf, a 20-year-old freshman, was measured at 6’10” and 222 lbs. His size, along with his playing style, makes him a PF in today’s NBA.
Leaf was born in Tel Aviv, Israel. His father, Bradley Leaf, was a professional basketball player who spent his career playing in Israel. Though Leaf moved to the U.S. at a young age, he has had experience playing with the Israeli National team. He appeared in the 2015 FIBA U-18 Division B Championships, where he led the tournament in player efficiency rating (PER) per DraftExpress.com.
During his one season at UCLA, Leaf posted averages of 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.1 blocks in 29.9 minutes per game. He led the Bruins in scoring even while sharing the court with Lonzo Ball, a potential top-three pick.
Leaf also posted a 26.6 PER, which trailed only Washington’s Markelle Fultz (27.9) and Colorado’s Derrick White (27.3) in the Pac-12.
Leaf’s strengths are highlighted by his offensive versatility and basketball IQ. His game fits well in the NBA as he excels in fast break situations and shows the ability to shoot well from beyond the arc. The versatile forward shot 46.6% from three on 1.7 3PA per game last season.
“I think I can score on three levels, which a lot of bigs are not able to do,” Leaf told the IndyStar.
His ability to score inside and out is impressive, and so is his relentlessness to crash the glass. DraftExpress.com’s detailed scouting video breaks down Leaf’s strengths.
Given Leaf’s lack of strength, the young man has a tendency to shy away from contact (much like what we’ve seen from Myles Turner at times). Leaf often settles for difficult shots to avoid contact - instead of drawing fouls and earning his points at the free throw line. Leaf averaged just 3.0 free throw attempts per game and shot 67.9% from the line.
Aside from shying away from contact, Leaf mostly struggles on the defensive end of the floor. Due to his lack of strength, his opponents are easily able to back him down and have their way in the paint.
Leaf’s defensive positioning also needs improvement, especially in pick & roll situations. If he wants to see time on the court, his pick & roll defense must improve. The UCLA freshman has a tendency to sag off of the pick, which either lets the ball handler shoot uncontested or attack the defense at full speed.
Draftexpress.com’s detailed scouting video provides examples of these issues.
Throughout the Pacers season, the second unit’s power forward was perhaps the biggest question mark on the team’s season.
Especially during Thaddeus Young’s absence due to a wrist injury, the lack of athletic power forwards was evident. Lavoy Allen received the most minutes as the second unit’s power forward, but coach Nate McMillan also experimented with lineups including Kevin Seraphin and Rakeem Christmas.
These players were unable to stretch the floor on the offensive end, which clogged the paint for the second unit’s center and slashing guards. T.J. Leaf would stretch the floor given his three point abilities and thus create space for the center or penetrating guards.
Allen, Seraphin, and Christmas also struggled with lateral quickness. Defensively, they had trouble keeping their opponent in front of them. Leaf fails to provide much improvement here. Nonetheless, the 20-year-old has room, and time, to continue developing.
If selected, Leaf would provide an option at the second unit power forward position, which the Pacers desperately need to fill.
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