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T.J. Leaf: Passable

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Welcome to the second installation of The Gallery, offering varying takes on T.J. Leaf’s sophomore season through the lens of defense.

Original Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

(“The Gallery” is an end-of-season series featuring one uniquely titled picture or video installation for every player that best summarizes or encapsulates that player’s season in a single snapshot. These aren’t highlights, they’re seminal moments expressed through the medium of art placards. Enjoy your tour!)

T.J. Leaf

Power Forward, Age 22

Passable

Indiana Pacers versus Detroit Pistons, February 25

Little Caesars Arena

Evoking new perceptions by focusing on a close-up of the subject within the team concept, Passable is an interpretive piece which can be extrapolated differently by each individual viewer. Think of it this way: If you as the observer were told before the season started that the Pacers would switch a pindown screen out of necessity, switch back, and avoid giving up a corner three out of a quick swing-swing reversal, how many guesses would you have needed to determine that Domantas Sabonis, Doug McDermott, and T.J. Leaf were the key players involved?

Leaf’s role should not be overlooked, here. Not only did he provide help on the seal when an inadvertent stumble forced McDermott and Sabonis to trade defensive responsibilities, he afforded his teammates the opportunity to switch back without jeopardizing his own ability to recover to Thon Maker. Then, after closing to the corner, he sunk into the legs of Zaza Pachulia when it looked as though Sabonis would have to trap the box on the drive.

Over and over again he was in the right place at the right time, which isn’t something that could be said a year ago, when his loose grasp of rotation assignments resulted in him literally bumping into his own teammates. That’s progress, but it also speaks as well of the team system (thanks, Dan Burke) as it does Leaf. Individually, his slow-motion, lunge-like closeouts still beg to be driven, and he can sometimes appear like a vampire being exposed to the sun when left alone to provide a second-line of defense against a crafty ball-handler.

That said, although he didn’t exactly harness his skills as a stretch-four at either end of the floor, he was quick off his feet to the offensive glass, and he shot an impressive 73 percent in the restricted area, where he showed off improved post moves as well as some flashes of change of speed and the ability to contort his body in mid-air to make off-target passes on-target.

As the title of this work suggests, he was Passable as the third-and-a-half big in the rotation, whether he can continue to look the part in a larger role when teams are prepared for him to be in the mix and are more apt to target his weaknesses is a matter of perspective.

Prior collections:

Darren Collison: Meh

Thaddeus Young: The Sticking Point

Cory Joseph: It’s all in the Details

Alize Johnson: Rough around the Edges

Doug McDermott: The Invisible Man