Blazers’ Meyers Leonard: ‘I cause problems because I space the floor’

While the Portland Trail Blazers were eliminated from the postseason, Meyers Leonard had a career-high 30 points with five three-pointers against the Golden State Warriors.

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Despite the loss, he was the story of the evening and many were surprised by his sudden success. But this hardly happened overnight. Back in 2015-16, Leonard shot 50-40-90 on his field goal percentage, three-point percentage and free throw percentage, but didn’t have enough attempts to qualify for the leaderboard.

“I’ve always had the shooting touch,” Leonard told HoopsHype. “But I went from shooting longer midrange shots to, one summer, deciding I might as well extend to three. It’s just been a progression from there, learning how to get feet right for a pick and pop. It’s different for a guard and a big. When you have a lot of height, it’s hard to set a screen, pick and pop and be ready to get it off quick.”

The former No. 11 overall pick connected on 43-of-95 (45.3 percent) of his looks from above the arc during the regular season. That ranked third-best among NBA players with at least 90 attempts on non-corner three-pointers. He was also 14-for-31 (45.2 percent) in the postseason from this range, also third-best (min: 30 attempts) in the league.

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He credits repetition, rhythm and confidence for the success he has had and, because of this, he regretted previously changing his form during off years. After working with NBA trainer Drew Hanlen, he fixed a lot of the issues he had with his balance. Leonard was coming off a tough 2016-17 campaign where he shot just 34.7 percent from deep.

The two worked together on getting his shoulders forward so he did not lean while shooting. That is a big factor, especially when he is more fatigued later in the games.

“The first thing we did was widen his base to improve his balance on his shot,” Hanlen told HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy. “The second thing we did was raise his release to improve his drop angle so there was more room for error. The third thing we did was make 500+ shots a day. That was just for the shooting.”

Hanlen told Leonard that coming off the slump, it was unlikely he would get much playing time in 2017-18. The big man played a career-low 7.7 minutes per game last season. But both knew that if he had a great summer and put in the work, he could be in a situation where he could play more often in 2018-19.

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“On the skill side, we wanted to turn him into a good decision maker off ball screens and dribble handoffs,” continued Hanlen. “We worked on his ability to shoot, drive and pass off pops and short rolls. Often times, that meant having five interns on the court with him so we could rep the game actions we thought he’d find himself in, so he felt comfortable in those situations when he got the chance to play. Truth is, there are a lot of guys who can do things 1-on-0, but the key to truly being game-ready is feeling confident that you can use those skills in games.”

Leonard has rarely had an opportunity to play with the first unit, starting just 42 of his 393 career appearances. But when on the court, he averaged 1.36 points per possession when spotting up this season. That actually ranked in the 99th percentile among all players and second-best among those with at least 60 possessions, per Synergy Sports.

For the second time in his career, Leonard had another 50-40-90 season this year. The 27-year-old helped us contextualize his offensive role and success.

“Shots that I have to shoot versus what Dame has to shoot are completely different stories,” he told HoopsHype. “He’s shooting off the dribble, he’s shooting with one or more defenders on him. It’s a big difference. I’m more of a finisher. But I cause problems because I space the floor.”

Leonard has averaged 1.9 three-pointers per 36 minutes when on the court without Lillard. During the time he has played with the star point guard, however, that rate has increased to 2.3 three-pointers per 36.

He added that when two defenders go to Lillard in the pick-and-roll, he will often have an open look from three. As such, his teammates have developed a confidence that he will shoot the ball when he is open. You can watch that unfold above.

During the regular season, he averaged 1.33 PPP on pick-and-pop actions for Portland. That ranked third-best among all players who recorded at least 25 opportunities, per Synergy. He was 5-for-7 (71.4 percent) on pick-and-pops for the Trail Blazers in the postseason.

After his work with Hanlen, the 7-foot-1 Portland big has applied similar teachings to his younger teammates. The main player he has spoken to is second-year standout Zach Collins.

“I try to talk with Zach a whole lot because he’s very, very talented,” added Leonard. “I always remind him to stay on balance and try to shoot in rhythm and shoot it confidently.”

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