The 6’10” power forward out of UCLA is going to turn some heads wherever he is drafted. T.J. Leaf is a definite first round talent, and he is projected to go mid-to-late first round. Leaf had an amazing freshmen year as a Bruin, averaging 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists.
He was very efficient with his shot selection, shooting 61.7% overall and 46.6% from three. Leaf helped the UCLA Bruins have a major turnaround during his only season on campus, and he hopes to have a similar impact with the NBA team that drafts him.
Strengths: T.J. Leaf is a big man who can run the floor with ease. He showed in UCLA’s up-tempo system that he could finish in transition with his quick speed and explosiveness off the jump.
Leaf is a tremendous passer and is always able to make the correct pass. Whether he is passing out of a double team in the post or bringing the ball up and dishing it in transition, the ball will find the open man.
His post game improved a lot during his freshmen season, mainly due to the excellent feet-work down in the post. Leaf also developed a nice shimmy-head fake that he was able to use on many defenders to create space for his shot. These skills will definitely be needed at the next level when teams want to slow the game down and feed it to Leaf on the block.
Now what really separates Leaf from the other big men in this class is the ability to knock down the three-point shot and space the floor. Leaf shot an impressive 46.6% from three, and if he is able to shoot anything close to that in the NBA, he will be a steal for whoever gets him. Also, his ability to shoot the three makes defenders have to close out, and if they close out too much, the defense is in trouble because Leaf can also do this.
Weaknesses: Leaf doesn’t have the strength or physicality yet that is needed to battle with the big men yet in today’s NBA. While his explosiveness helps block shots around the rim, every other facet of his defensive game needs improvement. Currently, Leaf will be too slow moving his feet on defense to guard athletic power forwards, or too small to deal with a stronger player backing him down. He also needs to improve his free-throw percentage, since it was a little low for a player that can shoot from distance.
NBA Player Comparison: David Lee
Both Leaf and Lee can stretch the floor and play in transition. Leaf is a little bit better shooting from distance while Lee is a bit better playing in the post. Both players like to finish their dunks with a little flair and they can both pass like guards.
Where Will He Land: Atlanta Hawks, #19th Pick
The Atlanta Hawks seem to be headed towards a rebuild, and the status of Paul Millsap returning is up in the air, the Hawks need a stretch four. T.J. Leaf checks all the boxes for what they will need going forward. The upside to drafting Leaf is that he is only twenty years old, and showed a great work ethic at UCLA.