Warriors fans would probably love Meyers Leonard, should the Warriors draft the 7-foot-1, 250-pound center out of Illinois. Humble. Mature. Appreciative.
But whether his game is as mature and as likable as his personality is the question Golden State will have to determine heading into Thursday’s NBA draft. Some in the Warriors’ contingent, including co-owner Joe Lacob, figure since the Warriors can’t get one of their coveted players or fill a need, they might as well go big.
While Connecticut’s Andre Drummond might have the higher ceiling, Leonard – who worked out for the Warriors on Saturday — seems to be the better fit because he’s definitely a center and figures the be less of a risk.North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller may be more ready to contribute and better in the post, but Leonard is younger and noticeably more athletic.
He’s been compared to Robin Lopez and Tiago Splitter, dubbed a poor man’s Tyson Chandler and Chris Andersen without all the tattoos. Just about any combination of those would be perfect off the bench behind projected starters David Lee and Andrew Bogut. It would be reasonable to expect Leonard to rebound, block shots, knock down an occasional jumper and finish as a rookie.
But Leonard’s value is in his upside. Physically, Leonard rates pretty high. He’s a legit 7-footer with 7-foot-3 wingspan and a frame begging for more bulk. He runs the floor well and has some hops. He’s got and some elements to his game on which to build.
“People say I’m raw,” Leonard said. “I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as raw. I think I have a little more of a skill set than some people think I do. The ability to step out and shoot it, get up and down the court, use my athleticism, those are things I can do. I know that at the same time, coning into the gym every day, working on my footwork, back-to-the-basket (game), face-up (game), is very important.”
Still, the Warriors may have a tough time pulling the trigger on Leonard. While he’s got potential, Golden State general manager Bob Myers said he’ll take the best player available. Is Leonard — who averaged 13.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 31.8 minutes — really the seventh-best player in the draft?
Myers said he would be willing to trade down for a player, but he had to be certain he would be available. He also said he wouldn’t have a problem drafting a player he was sure about even if No. 7 was considered high for that player.
Leonard has a few intangibles working for him. He’s only 20 and he’s shown serious growth potential based on the jump he made in production from his freshman to his sophomore year.Plus, Leonard — no stranger to poverty and struggle — has some edge to him.
Toughened by the death of his father as a kid, and a brother who just finished his second tour in Afghanistan, Leonard doesn’t come off as the type to back down. Plus, he is hungry to provide for his family, especially his mother who has suffered for years with debilitating back pain with no health insurance to take care of it.
But does he have enough to be the guy? Enough potential, enough readiness, enough intangibles, to warrant the Warriors passing up some other, higher-valued talents?
“I feel like this is a place I could fit in,” Leonard said, “But we’ll see.”