Up until the 18th pick, the biggest Indiana Pacers news had been trade talks between the Pacers and Boston Celtics regarding Paul George, but with those talks reportedly stalling, the focus turned back to the draft itself, where Indiana took UCLA forward TJ Leaf.
Leaf led the Bruins in scoring as a freshman, averaging 16.9 points per game on 46.6% from three point range, averaging 8.2 rebounds. Evan Morris covered Leaf a month ago on Indy Cornrows, outlining his strengths and weaknesses, including his gifted offensive game.
Evan’s outlined weaknesses however may be a concern for an already soft team that will struggle more defensively without George.
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.
Where Indiana goes the rest of the night is up in the air, but they will be looking for Leaf to make a quick transition to the pro game for his offensive versatility in the upcoming season.