Playbook is AYS’ installment where we look at common plays run by the Portland Trail Blazers or upcoming opponents to learn tendencies, scout teams, and understand efficiency. You can take a look at the other Playbook entries by clicking here.
Meyers Leonard is seen as a long-term project in Portland, and his development seems to mirror that plan. His learning curve is steep, especially given that he has many physical talents but still needs to learn a feel for the game on a professional level.
As part of the offensive set, Leonard stuggles with setting useful, solid screens, a crucial part of any two-man game. Let’s take a look at his issues one-by-one.
Wide set, head down, slow-to-react
Leonard sets particularly strange and over-exaggerated screens when the play doesn’t call for him to slip. His knees are far too wide, putting him at high likelihood to be assessed a foul (as demonstrated in the video above). On a more personal note, I’ve seen this strategy before and usually when players do this they are trying to visually establish their screening position to a referee. Unfortunately, if a knee is stuck out, it’s a foul in the NBA, and that decision on the part of Leonard needs to stop.
His head is usually down, part of the visual cue, but this is a major issue. It takes him out of the play offensively since he’s not up and looking around to move to space, roll to the hoop, or look for a quick pass.
Where Leonard is effective
On slip positions, Leonard is a useful offensive weapon for the Blazers. It is perhaps the best sorted element of his game, where his physical talents are closely matched with his basketball awareness. His ability to roll to the hoop on a slip — or as he has demonstrated over Summer Leage and preseason this year — to hit a jumper, is a window into why the Blazer organization thinks they have something worth developing in the 21-year-old.
Why Leonard’s screens don’t work
It’s the same thing Leonard thinks will help him in his screens: his wide-set feet. Leonard’s wide-set stance not only trips the defender he is attempting to screen, but his own offensive player. Blazer guards are having to swing wide around his knees and feet, and that creates a bit of space for the defender to try to slip through.
This, of course, leads to Leonard trying to lean over and use his forearm to make up for his poor screening technique. Leonard needs to be aware of his own size, and that he is wide enough with a basic, athletic stance for a screen play.
Leonard has physical tools but still has issues with spacing, offensive awareness, and basic good habits. The Portland coaching staff needs to work with him on everything from keeping his head up as he moves through the paint, to using his periphery to move to space. Setting proper screens is just a part of that but it needs to be addressed in development this season if Portland fans want to feel as though Leonard will be worth the investment in the long run.
In games, Leonard seems open and willing to learn. This preseason, coach Stotts has been active in making adjustments for the big man from Illinois. He is able to adapt from half-to-half, and both he and Stotts should make a note of proper screening techniques as a focal point for him this year.
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