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Sounds of Thunder: Oklahoma City Thunder Draft Prospect, T.J. Leaf

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With just over 2 weeks to go before Draft night, this UCLA big man brings some much needed skills to the dance.

Joshua Dahl @ USA TODAY Sports

Keeping track of the Thunder’s number 21 spot at Draft Express this season has been a bit like watching a revolving door. Names like Tyler Lydon, Terrance Ferguson, Ivan Rabb, Rodions Kurucs, and others, have all come and gone, but for the past 10 days or so, the Draft Express projection for the Thunder has seemed to settle on UCLA PF, T.J. Leaf.

Make no mistake, Leaf has skills, especially offensive skills...

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and his name is virtually everywhere in the Pac12’s 2016/17 stats leader board:

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The question is where Presti and the Thunder can fit another PF when the team has Domantas Sabonis and Jerami Grant set for another season with a possible re-signing of veteran Taj Gibson possibly in the works and talks of giving Doug McDermott some looks in small ball line-ups.

Role that video:

It’s difficult to watch Leaf go after offensive boards and not think of Russell Westbrook’s old running mate with the Bruins, Kevin Love.

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The beefier Love played center when he donned the blue and gold, but both he and Leaf have that unique sense of timing that allows them to slash to the ball at just the right time and steal the ball right out of an unsuspecting defender’s grasp.

Leaf and Love share another important characteristic, confidence:

Leaf oozes confidence, and more importantly, does so without coming across as cocky. He understands making the move to the NBA will require work and appears very ready to put in the hours to make it happen.

Leaf is also a player unafraid of the big moments in a big game:

Rupp Arena, playing the #1 ranked Kentucky Wildcats. Folks, it doesn’t get much bigger than that for a 20 year old Freshman.

TJ Leaf Boxscore
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When Kevin Love came into the league he trimmed 15 pounds, Leaf needs to add 15 or 20 pounds of muscle to his 6’10” that 46.6% 3-point shot to the next level he will be one of the hottest commodities in the league in 4 years.

frame but looks to have the framework to handle it well. Leaf also wants to become a better shooter, and if he can bring As with many offensively gifted players coming out of college, Leaf needs to work at becoming a better defender, but his primary issues seem manageable. He stance is very erect which allows opponents to push him off his spot and his footwork hinders his help defense, but his athleticism should give him the opportunity to become a solid rim protector.

When the Thunder make their choice they need to add a reliable 3-point shooter. Even a 15% drop from his 46.6% college production would still make Leaf a 40% long distance sniper, so check that box in Leaf’s favor. The Thunder also need another player that can pass in Donovan’s ball movement scheme, another check for Leaf. Adding a player that can create their own shot would also be a plus. Leaf possesses a decent handle for a big man, has a good understanding of space, runs the floors well, and moves smartly without the ball. With a little time and practice, he could add shot creating to his résumé.

What the Thunder don’t need is another one-way player. If they brin Leaf in for a workout they should put him in a position to test his willingness to play physical, something scouts say he tended to avoid this past season. The Thunder need to know if a lack of confidence resulting from poor mechanics or a general mindset gave scouts the impression that Leaf lacked lateral defensive quickness. One soft big whose feet turns to lead and shies from contact like the bubonic plague when he crosses half court is too many and the Thunder can’t afford to absorb another. However, if Leaf shows he is willing to mix it up with the big boys and develop better balance and footwork, that sweet shot and Leaf’s ability to run the floor are just too good to pass up. In fact, in the space and pace era of the modern game they may be too good to pass on either way.

Poll

If TJ Leaf is the best player available when Oklahoma City makes their pick at #21, what should the Thunder do?

This poll is closed

  • 42%
    Grab the hot-handed Bruin quick and make him their own.
    (47 votes)
  • 21%
    Go with another player. (if so, who?)
    (24 votes)
  • 26%
    Use the pick with other assets to trade up. (what asset and which higher projected pick do you covet/)
    (29 votes)
  • 9%
    Use the pick and trade with other assets for a lower projected pick and other assets. (again, what assets, which lower pick, and what assets would you look for in the deal.)
    (10 votes)
110 votes total Vote Now