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T.J. Leaf – 6’10” Power Forward, ULCA, 20 Years Old
California-native T.J. Leaf is a power forward out of UCLA. Leaf is expected to be chosen somewhere around the 23rd pick in the NBA Draft. In his first and only year at UCLA, he averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game. Leaf was first in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage, shooting 61.7%. He also shot 46.6% from 3-point range. Leaf was named the Pac-12 player of the week twice during the 2016-17 season and received first-team All-Pac-12 honors. As a young player, he will take some time to develop at the next level, but potential exists for him to become an impactful player in the NBA.
Since T.J. Leaf only played one year at UCLA, there is nothing to compare his growth to from one year to the next at the collegiate level. However, in his only year, he showed that if given the chance with a strong player-development program, he can really transform as a skilled player in the NBA. Leaf can finish at the rim and has shown a variety of versatility on offense. He also has solid passing skills and good court vision. Nick Collinson from nbadraft.net mentions that Leaf’s motor and consistent effort on the court will help make him a stand-out to those teams that are considering taking him in the first round.
Although his basketball IQ is high, Leaf does struggle with his skills on the defensive end. His feet aren’t super quick and he currently does not have the physical strength he will need in the NBA. At his current size, he is not seen as a reliable big for most teams. Fourtunately, this is something that will just take some extra time in the weight room and the kitchen. With that being said, improvement of his all-around fundamental skills will help Leaf to be competitive at the next level.
Once Leaf gains a bit more strength and works on fine-tuning skills on both ends of the floor, he has the potential to be a helpful and contributing piece to any team at the next level. He has shown that he can shoot from behind the arc — a beneficial skill that not many bigs have.
With most of the attention coming out of UCLA on another player, (*cough cough*) Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf has not recieved a ton of attention entering the draft. However, he does have the ability and basic skill set to really prove himself once he gets to the NBA.
NBA Player Comparison
Looking at where T.J. Leaf is at entering the draft, his peak as a player in the NBA has the capability to be similar to David Lee. During his prime, Lee averaged similar numbers to those of Leaf as he looks to enter the NBA. Lee has a good passing skill set, just as Leaf has displayed in college.
In some of Lee’s best years in the league, he was a leading scorer for the New York Knicks. Since then, he has been seen as more of a role-player for both the Golden State Warriors and his current team, the San Antonio Spurs. Seeing Leaf’s current level and potential improvement path, we can expect that he will be able to serve at similar roles depending on what team he ends up with.