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2017 NBA Draft Profile: TJ Leaf Doesn’t Get Enough Credit for UCLA’s Turnaround

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Leaf led the Bruins in points per game as well as three-point shooting percentage last season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Kent State and UCLA Bruins Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

As a teammate of Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf’s contributions to UCLA Basketball were frequently overshadowed by Lonzo’s. But that should change tomorrow night at the NBA Draft when Leaf is selected by a team that needs a power forward who can both shoot and pass.

Weaknesses

Let’s talk about Leaf’s weaknesses first and get that out of the way.

The biggest knock on Leaf is that he will need to add both weight and strength to his frame in order to play at an elite level in the pros. Big deal. That’s usually the case with college kids heading to the pros.

Leaf needs to get bigger and stronger as part of his development on defense, which wasn’t exactly emphasized at UCLA. To be sure, the defense did get better as the season went on, but that had more to do with the players than the coaching staff developing guys to play defense.

Strengths

Leaf can score and, despite his lack of size, he can rebound.

When it comes to scoring, Leaf can knock them down from 3-point range. At UCLA last season, he shot 47 percent from behind the arc. That’s a better percentage than anyone else on the team including Bryce Alford whose reputation as a three-point shooter is well-known. Of course, Leaf took far fewer 3-point shots than Alford which could have something to do with the higher percentage.

But, Leaf isn’t one-dimensional offensively either.

The guy can rebound. He led UCLA with 287 rebounds, just 78 of which were offensive rebounds.

Leaf’s shooting ability isn’t just limited to long-range shots. He led the high-powered Bruins’ offense last year, making 61.7% of all his field goal shots. He was the only Bruin to make more than 200 field goals. Leaf’s 16.3 points per game was good enough to lead an offensively-potent UCLA team in scoring.

In short, UCLA’s high-scoring offense wouldn’t have been such a high-scoring offense without TJ Leaf.

So, you see, UCLA wasn’t just all Lonzo, all the time last season, despite the best efforts of LaVar Ball to make it seem otherwise.

Fun Facts

So what else should you know about TJ Leaf? He apparently has a huge crush on Taylor Swift and went as far as to invite the singer to come to a UCLA game last season, but Swift never responded to Leaf’s tweet inviting Swift to a game.

Well, TJ, next season you can always invite her to come see you play when you team visits Madison Square Garden.

Projection

Leaf has worked out for a lot of NBA teams. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him go in the Top 10, but, realistically, he will probably wait until the middle of the first round. If I had to guess, I’d say he will probably be selected by the Miami Heat with the 14th overall pick.


Go Bruins!