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This will be an important summer for T.J. Leaf. After being selected in the first round of the 2017 draft (No. 18 overall), the 6-foot-10 forward spent most of the meaningful portion of the season on the bench.
But that’s not uncommon for young players such as Leaf, who became a member of the Indiana Pacers after just one season at UCLA.
“I like his potential. His offense is certainly ahead of his defense,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan told the Indianapolis Star. “His basketball IQ is very high.”
Leaf averaged 2.1 points and 1.5 rebounds in 53 games as a rookie. Hardly numbers to fawn over, as Leaf was expected to make a bigger impact in reserve.
Then again, the Pacers were a lot better than people expected, surprising their way to a 48-34 record and taking the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the first round.
A big part of that was the sudden rise of All-NBA third-teamer Victor Oladipo. Another part was the coaching of McMillan — as well as the Pacers’ overall balance, confidence and determination.
Leaf may not have had a huge role on the floor, but he was undoubtedly able to soak it all in, to learn from the winning experiences.
All while getting adjusted to the NBA as a 20-year old.
“It’s a lot different. It’s a different game,” Leaf told Amico Hoops back in November. “For one, guys are a lot stronger because they’re a lot older. I’m playing against guys that are 10-15 years older than me. That’s a big adjustment. They know a lot of tricks that you don’t know as a rookie. So it’s definitely different, but I’m looking forward to learning all those new things.”
Getting stronger, staying around the game, and putting in lots of work are all on the docket for Leaf this offseason.
“This is a very important summer for him,” McMillan told the Star. “He has to let his ability to put the ball in the basket, put the ball on the floor, he’s a legit spread four in this league and he will get stronger.”