Let’s talk about these UCLA kids for a minute. No, I’m not talking about Lonzo Ball and his younger brothers, who’ve both already committed to the Bruins. Unless the Bulls front office pulls a shocking move and trades Jimmy Butler for a lottery pick, the eldest Ball brother will be long gone by the time Chicago’s on the clock with the 16th pick of the 2017 draft. And I’m more than okay with that. Honestly, I get hives just thinking about LaVar Ball parading around Chicago with his big stupid mouth like he suddenly owned our town. Please, just shut up already.
No, I’m talking about two guys who helped Lonzo turn UCLA’s basketball program around this season. They don’t get nearly as much attention as their teammate (or his father), but they are projected to be first round selections for good reason. Depending how the lottery picks pan out, either or them could be there for the Bulls at 16.
T.J. Leaf – PF
For all of the praise heaped on Lonzo in his one season with the Bruins, power forward T.J. Leaf actually scored more points (16.3) and grabbed more rebounds (8.2) per game. He also led the team in field goal percentage (61.7%) and three point percentage (46.6%) while chipping in 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks. This kid can do it all.
Leaf would be a phenomenal fit in coach Fred Hoiberg’s system. UCLA’s offense this season very closely resembled the “pace and space” style that the Mayor ran at Iowa State and is trying to run with the Bulls. At 6’10 with sharpshooting ability, T.J. is the ideal stretch four for today’s NBA and Hoiberg’s roster. You know, the role Nikola Mirotic and/or Bobby Portis were supposed to play this season?
As long as we’re comparing Leaf to those two, he already appears to have a more versatile offensive game. Not only can he crash the glass with impeccable timing, but he has good hands (something that sadly cannot be said about Niko or Bobby.) T.J. can score from the block by posting and facing up his defenders. Portis still can’t do much from that spot. The UCLA freshman also has excellent court vision and passing ability for a guy his size. How many times did we shake our heads at an errant and inexplicable pass from Niko this season?
Speaking of those passing skills, Leaf uses them beautifully in transition. He’s confident enough as a ballhandler to start the fastbreak on the dribble, and is capable of making long outlet passes or cross-court passes through traffic. Just as impressive is his willingness to get out and run in transition, sprinting ahead of the ball carrier to receive passes for full-steam attacks on the rim. Hoiberg’s offense needs bigs who can run the floor and finish in a variety of ways, including from range. Leaf offers all of that.
Defensively, he’s got some work to do. His lateral quickness isn’t great, and he struggled with pick and roll situations. Physically, he isn’t strong enough to defend the NBA’s larger power forwards or centers on the block. But he can provide decent rim protection with his height and reach. The defensive footwork and muscle should come along over time.
To watch T.J. Leaf’s scouting video from DraftExpress, click here.
Now let’s take a look at the UCLA kid who could become a defensive monster in the NBA.
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