Scouts will also be keeping a close eye on T.J. Leaf, who continues to be a lightning rod of a prospect, with no clear consensus from talent evaluators. Naysayers point to his shockingly poor splits, which indicate that he struggles mightily against quality competition, while putting up tremendous numbers against woefully overmatched opponents. Supporters are quick to bring up his game against Kentucky in December, where he had 17 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists and was likely the catalyst behind UCLA's upset win in Lexington. While Kentucky is clearly weakest defensively at the power forward spot, something that has been their Achilles heel all season, this will still be an important game for Leaf to make the case that his lack of length and quickness won't rule him out from having a strong career at the NBA level, and that the tiny sample size of his 3-point shooting (less than one make per game) aren't a cause for concern.
Leaf is an interesting case study for NBA scouts, as his productivity has been fairly underwhelming in the games he's played against strong competition. His scoring, rebound, and offensive efficiency has been sky-high against weaker teams, but he's posting fairly pedestrian numbers against the better teams he's faced. This is a great game for him to show that thats just a statistical fluke, and that he can get his shot off, cover ground defensively, take care of the ball and make 3-pointers with his funky mechanics even against players like Gary Clark.
Ryan Thomson takes a closer look at UCLA power forward T.J. Leaf's outstanding performance against then-undefeated Kentucky, to see what we can learn from an NBA perspective.
The ultra-productive freshman matched up with a variety of different types of players, leading to some very strong moments, as well as showing plenty of areas he still has to improve on, on both ends of the floor. He finished the game with 17 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 turnovers in 32 minutes, shooting 7/12 from the floor.
Kentucky ended up losing this game on their home floor, giving up 97 points to UCLA, the most ever by a John Calipari coached team.
A horde of NBA scouts and executives were present in Lexington, as this was an ideal evaluation setting for talent evaluators to observe at least a half dozen future first round picks.
Ryan Thomson is a video analyst for DraftExpress. Follow him on twitter and check out his DraftExpress Video Archive. He will be breaking down the NBA draft in digital format all year long for us.
T.J. Leaf scored efficiently, but didn't have a particularly good three days in Treviso. Lacking great length, strength, and toughness, Leaf struggled mightily at times defensively, especially on the block. Though he possesses a strong feel for the game, his unconventional looking shot was not falling consistently here, which hurt his ability to stretch the floor and limited the rest of his scoring arsenal. His best contributions came as a passer on the offensive end. Fairly efficient at every event he's attended at the high school level, this was a unique test for the Foothills Christian (CA) product.