Meyers Leonard’s NBA career began last night

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Meyers Leonard didn’t exactly arrive last evening, but the GPS on his NBA career is saying “you will reach the destination in X hundred feet.”

After last night’s dominating performance, Leonard can see the driveway to his eventual arrival. You probably missed it, because it happened very late last night, but the NBA on TNT team gave Meyers Leonard some love with the Arvydas Sabonis comparisons.

O’Neal on center Meyers Leonard:  “He’s big, he’s physical…and he can shoot it from long range. He’s Baby [Arvydas] Sabonis…a big guy that can shoot.”

Barkley on Arvydas Sabonis: “He was one of the five best players in the world. He got to the NBA, blew out both Achilles, gained 100 pounds and still made it to the All-Star Game.”

Now to be fair and honest, Shaq and Barkley both said that Leonard isn’t as good as Sabonis, just reminiscent of him. They were impressed by how Leonard showed Sabonis tendencies, they did not not say that he’s the next Sabonis. However, it’s a huge step forward for a guy who hasn’t really done much in the league, despite his huge potential. Damian Lillard, and his 35 points, are the main reason that the Portland Trail Blazers kept their season alive, but Leonard did his part. meyers-leonard

He went 5-6 from the field, 3-3 from three point distance to comprise a 13 point, 13 rebound performance. The win staved off the Blazers elimination, at least for one more game. Leonard is having a tremendous series, and it’s a long way from the guy who had an uninspiring college basketball career at Illinois.

He’s actually put up a rare 50/40/90 this season!  

He hardly ever played his freshman year, and then Illini Coach Bruce Weber badly misused him during his sophomore year. Too many times, the offense was all about Meyers Leonard setting picks and screens for mediocre at best jump-shooters. Leonard wasn’t given the ball enough, and he was just too raw. He would play a dominant half or two, but never often found a way to put the two halves together into one game.

And also this happened:

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Illinois got blown out badly on the road; while visiting a very bad Nebraska Cornhuskers team. The cameras caught Meyers Leonard crying on the bench, and you seriously wondered if the sight could even affect his NBA Draft stock. It did not, as he ended up going in the lottery; becoming a top ten overall pick.

Besides, the disaster in Lincoln, and that horrendous 2011-12 Illini basketball season for that matter, was not his fault, as the team really took a turn for the worse in mid-season once news of Bruce Weber’s inevitable firing had leaked.

Weberball is a motion offense that’s always guard-focused and the Illini guards did a very poor job with it. They were inept at getting him the ball inside, and once we knew Weber was going to be dismissed the team’s effort level dropped substantially.

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But hey, that’s ancient history now. Meyers Leonard got drafted, got paid, and it looks like he might be making it in the league now going forward.

Paul M. Banks owns, operates and writes The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with Fox Sports Digital. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, currently contributes to the Chicago Tribune RedEye edition. He also appears regularly on numerous sports talk radio stations all across the country.

Follow him on Twitter (@paulmbanks) and Instagram (@paulmbanks)

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