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Coach’s assessment: Blazers’ Leonard is a work in progress

Oct 8, 2012, 5:46 PM EST

Leonard from Illinois University shakes hands with NBA Commissioner Stern after he was selected by the Portland Trailblazers as the 11th overall pick in the 2012 NBA basketball Draft in Newark Reuters

Portland is rebuilding their team. They will not be terrible because LaMarcus Aldridge won’t let them be (and because I think Damien Lillard is going to be pretty good), but they have time to let young players learn and develop.

Like rookie center Meyers Leonard. He has a lot of developing to do.

Blazers assistant coach and big man gury Kim Hughes — a great coach to speak with because he is just honest and a good guy — put it plainly and simply for Chris Haynes at CSNNW.com.

“He needs to set picks and he needs to roll,” Hughes said. “A lot of times if he’s standing on the weak side, that means he’s making a mistake. If he makes a move on the low block without conviction, it’s wrong. He should probably throw it out and set a pick. And he can garner that information pretty quickly.”

“Defensively, he has to be a lot more active, he’s got to vocalize what’s going on. If he sees it, it has to say it,” Hughes said. “So for instance, if his man sets a pick, he has to tell the guard the pick and the location of the pick and that’s been hard for him. He’s not a vocal kid that way.”

At the collegiate level his size and athleticism could cover up a multitude of mistakes, if for no other reason than a lot of players were making them. That is not the case any more. Leonard is going to be on the court nightly against men as more athletic than himself, and with a knowledge of the game.

As with most rookies, it’s not the physical but the mental side that is the hardest adjustment, and what Hughes said he was working hard on.

“He’s struggled a little bit in training camp, he admits it,” Hughes said. “And he’s gotten down a few times and I try to fight that with him in saying that, ‘You’re tired, it’s a battle out here. It’s a war and you have to just fight through the fatigue, the stress of learning a new offense and just learning a different game…

“He’ll have to learn that and his own teammates are going to get on him and he can’t let it get him down. So far he’s been good that way, but young guys always do that, they get too down on themselves and he can’t fall victim to that.”

These comments shouldn’t be seen as an indictment of Leonard, rather it is pretty much what most NBA rookies face in one form or another. Anthony Davis is going to be facing some of these same challenges and issues. It’s a matter of what it takes to overcome them and how Leonard works through it. His development over the next couple years could be huge for the Blazers and what they are trying to build.

  1. fisherhorry - Oct 9, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    Leonard is going to get roughed up in the league this year, he only looked descent at UI because he played 6’9 centers all year. . if he thinks it is hard to play against J.J. Hickson then just wait for Dwight, Bynum, and basically every other center in the league. He would match up well with Robert Swift however.

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