2018-2019 POP Season Preview: A Healthy Jon Leuer can Contribute
Jon Leuer was set to be the first big off the bench for the Detroit Pistons last season after a semi-successful initial campaign with the team in 2016-17. However, after trudging through the first eight games of the 2017-18 season, struggling with his shot mightily, Leuer went down with a sprained left ankle against the Los Angeles Lakers in late October. While sprained ankles are nothing to mess around with, they certainly should not be season-ending injuries. This is just another strike against a Pistons’ training staff that has looked hapless when dealing with even the most minor of injuries to key players over the last few seasons. Regardless, Leuer underwent season-ending ankle surgery in January for an injury that looked like it would keep him out, at most, a few games at the time.
Luckily for Detroit, they had the luxury of rostering a player that provided exactly what the franchise would’ve hoped for when the team signed Leuer to a massive four-year deal back in 2016 – Anthony Tolliver. Tolliver had arguably the most successful season of his career in his age-32 season, making most forget about the loss of the team’s most expensive bench player. Tolliver is now in Minnesota, further thinning the Pistons already shallow backup frontcourt, making Leuer more valuable this season than ever before.
With nothing much to look at from last season, we’ll have to dig a bit deeper to set some expectations from the former Wisconsin big man. Leuer set career highs in points and minutes in his first go-round in Detroit, with averages of 10.2 and 25.9, respectively. He also proved to be a solid rebounder off the bench, grabbing 5.4 total rebounds per game, with 1.4 of them being on the offensive glass. While those are solid numbers for a bench big, they don’t look nearly as impressive when you take a look at the field goal percentages. The Pistons brought in Leuer for two main reasons following being swept at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 Eastern Conference playoffs – defensive versatility and shooting from the big man position. Leuer is no lockdown defender, but gives more effort and can work in defensive schemes better than the likes of Ersan Ilyasova and Tobias Harris, who both primarily played the power forward position for the Pistons prior to Blake Griffin’s arrival. However, Leuer’s sub-30 3-point percentage in 2016-17 gave Pistons’ fans flashbacks of Josh Smith a few seasons prior. Unlike Smith, who was known for his ill-advised jumpers, Leuer was getting good shots – just not hitting them. While he obviously won’t be this good every night, it’s vital for Detroit’s offense that we see more of the Jon Leuer we saw when he scorched the Timberwolves for a career-high 24 points in early 2017.
While a few plays in this clip consist of pull-up mid-range jumpers, something we hopefully won’t see much of in Dwane Casey’s three-point centric offense, pay attention to the three-point makes. Leuer gets his shot in a number of ways, whether it be moving towards the ball-handler and providing a kick-out option for a driving teammate, an open man to pass to out of the post, or fading out for a triple in a simple pick-and-pop play call. These are just a few examples of how Leuer can give Detroit’s offense a huge boost when he checks into the game. With nearly every Piston likely to get their fair share of 3-pointers up this season – with the exceptions being (hopefully) Ish Smith and newcomer Zaza Pachulia, efficiency from deep will be key for not only Leuer but the Pistons as a whole.
With nearly a full year of rehab, Leuer will have a big role off the Pistons’ bench in store for him. He will likely be the second or third player off the pine, and will most definitely be the first big man to check in to give either Blake Griffin or Andre Drummond a breather. With an eight-digit paycheck and an increased role coming his way this year, the Pistons need Leuer to do what he was brought to Detroit now, more than ever – make threes, become a versatile defender, and most importantly – stay healthy.
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