Meet Jon Leuer.
Apologies: I'm sorry this is a couple days after the fact. I'm still hella jet-lagged. Been waking up at like 4am each day. And trying to get back into the swing of things while also seeing all the people who want to see me and hear about the trip.
Whats the deal?
Leuer has agreed to a 4 year 42 million dollar contract. Obviously there is some wiggle room with regards to options and whatnot still, but that is around what it will be.
Who Is Jon Leuer.
Jon Leuer was born and raised in Minnesota, and he was one of those dudes that started off high school as a guard, but grew 10 inches and suddenly found himself as a super lanky and skilled tall dude. He was awesome in high school (of course) and was not overly highly recruited coming out. He attended Wisconsin University, where he started off buried in the depth chart and recorded regular, but small amounts, of playing time. And worked his way up until his senior season he was a leader of the team and averaged over 18 points per game.
Leuer was a second round pick of the Bucks and after spending a couple of months in Germany during the lockout he returned to the Bucks for the start of the NBA season. After one season with the Bucks he was traded to the Rockets who promptly cut him, he then spent some time with the Cavs and their D-League affiliate but didn't really do much in his time there. In 2013 he was traded to the Grizzlies who actually wanted him and signed him to a cheapo contract. Leuer spent 2 and a half seasons with the Grizzlies where he was in and out of the end of the rotation, before being traded to the Suns prior to last season. With the Suns he started the season in a similar situation of being on the edge of the rotation, until injuries (mostly to Tyson Chandler) ravaged the Suns and he found himself playing real minutes.
Jon Leuer is tall, and offensively skilled. Last season in Pheonix was really a coming out party of sorts for him, but he had shown some occasional flashes of being a solid rotation player in his time with the Grizzlies. He can shoot the 3, is able to put it on the floor and head to the rim, and is a good and willing passer. And one of the things I like most about his game is that he makes quick decisions. If you've read my posts all season you've heard about how much I love Reggie Bullock because of his quick decision making. Leuer has that in his game as well, and just like with Bullock, it is something that is a real asset for a role player. When he catches the ball around the 3 point line he doesn't dick around with it, he shoots it if he's open, puts it on the floor, or immediately dribbles towards a guard for a hand off. Simply put, he has a really nice all around offensive game with a nice blend of being able to be a stretch 4 while also being able to play the 5 and dive to the rim with a nice bit of ball handling and passing at either spot.
One thing that is likely a misconception some people will have will be with regards to his athleticism. And that is an understandable mistake if you haven't watched him much. When you hear of a tall white guy who can shoot (and struggles on defense), you think of a guy like Ersan Ilyasova or Ryan Anderson or Kevin Love, who may be good players but are definitely not good athletes. (by NBA standards of course.) And while Leuer may not be Andre Drummond, dude is not slow footed or ground bound. He is not just a pick and pop guy, he can roll to the rim and does it pretty well. He has the all important PnR ability of being able to catch the ball around the free throw line and finish at the rim without putting the ball on the floor. This also helps him out because he can provide a dash of rim protection on the defensive end as well. Once again, he is nothing special by NBA standards, but he isn't bad either.
On defense he struggles overall, but he is not useless either. As stated previously, he is rarely at a hopeless disadvantage as an athlete, and as such he is capable of at least hanging with speedier forwards, and is able to corral ball handlers for at least a few moments. And while he generally gets bullied by stronger centers, Leuer is long and tough as nails, he battles with anyone and can generally hold his own.
Lastly, he is (supposedly) a really good locker room guy, who plays and works his tail off every single day. This is especially nice because if the Pistons do indeed dump Joel Anthony, there is a chance Leuer is actually the oldest guy on the Pistons roster next season.
The main thing is that he is still fairly unproven. Last season was really the first time that he really started to get major minutes on a consistent basis. And once again, he has always looked pretty good when he got time, (essentially that he isn't unproven like Reggie Bullock. Who other than the last 20 games of last season has looked straight up bad) and most of the things he has showed are the sorts of things he's been doing since high school. But still, the man has taken 200 3 pointers in his career, and has played just over 3400 minutes total. (for comparison, KCP played 2700 minutes last season and took 369 3s.) And when signing a guy for 4 years that is at least a bit of a concern.
As far as his actual on court play though, the main concern is his defense. As stated in the "good" section, he is able to be the right kind of tweener at times, but he is also often the wrong kind of tweener. Even though he battles down low, he is sometimes just not strong enough to really hold up, and even though he can hang with smaller guys for a moment or two, he isn't going to do it for any longer than that. Essentially, even though he will give a respectable effort to pretty much everything on defense, he won't be able to do a lot more than that. (although sometimes his ability to stick with ball handlers is very impressive.) The other thing is that, even though he always plays hard, and is generally a pretty smart defender, he does occasionally get a little bit lost and end up a beat behind the play. It is not all that regular a thing, but it was enough of an issue that I did notice it. Also, he does not always welcome contact at the rim. Which is partly understandable because he isn't that big, but he could do better at really getting himself between a driver and the hoop. Essentially, he has the smarts and abilities to often be a fairly serviceable on ball defender, but off the ball he can fall a beat behind the play, and he doesn't have the chops to make up the lost ground. Essentially, he isn't a total loss on defense, but he is certainly not all that good.
On offense there are some problems as well. Even if his 3 point shot is as good as it was last season, his release is not a quick one, and his trigger is not always very quick either. I actually think his post game is better than some people (I remember Zach Lowe said that Leuer had no post game at all in a post) but it is certainly not a great weapon either, which is an issue because when smaller guys are guarding him, his ability to put the ball on the floor (one of his best assets) is largely negated, and he doesn't really have the post up game, or ability to just shoot over them effectively, to really hurt teams for putting smaller dudes on him. That is not as big a worry since he will be coming off the bench, but it is still a problem.
What will his role with the Pistons be?
He will most likely be the backup PF. I suppose there is a chance he could win the starting PF spot, but that would be pretty shocking. He will largely do the same thing that Tolly did the past year and a half, but with the added bonus of being able to play the 5 as well. I don't know for sure how many minutes SVG will give him at center since Aron Baynes is (presumably) going to be around, but Baynes will likely be gone after this season so it will benefit the Pistons to give him some time there and see if he could take up the mantle of both backup PF and C for the future.
How will he fit?
Assuming the Pistons don't trade Aron Baynes (which there is no indication that they will at this point.) then Leuer will mostly play PF this coming season. He will be doing some similar stuff to Tolly, except he has a lot more to his game. Tolly was a guy that if his shot was going in, he was useful, if he wasn't hitting shots, he wasn't very useful. Leuer does enough stuff other than shooting that he will be good to have on the court even if he misses a couple of shots. And given his ability to run the floor and handle the ball a bit, he should cap off a really fun bench mob that runs on the break a ton.
When he is playing alongside Andre he will largely play in a role similar to what Ersan did last season, spotting up around the perimeter to give some space. While occasionally putting the ball on the floor and taking the ball inside and crashing the boards to try and keep the opposing team from boxing out Andre with 2 guys. When he is on the floor with Baynes, or without any other center on the floor (making him the center of course) he will still spot up some, but he will do more rolling to the hoop, and facing up opposing bigs who can't really hang with his ball handling. Either way, he is fairly capable of being a solid player in either role. He is essentially the guy that SVG has been talking about so much as a big who can play either PF or C, and is good enough to play major minutes in some matchups where Mobias struggles with the other teams size. (And FWIW, I still think the Mobias vs. Size thing is overstated, but it is never a bad idea to be able to be more flexible.)
Leuer's shot is for real, and he even adds some real post up game to boot. He plays really well as the backup PF and give the Pistons the extra size option that they wanted so badly. And after Baynes leaves next offseason he also plays the backup center role and is a killer in both roles. He also gets the benefit of having SVG for a coach and being in a really stable situation and manages to smooth out some of his issues on defense to become a solid defender at both PF and C as well. He is the perfect pick up that we all were hoping for, a big who can play either PF or C and he's under contract for a while too.
His shot isn't actually that great, and he is exposed as being nothing more than a guy who put up some decent numbers on a miserable team. He can't really defend either the 4 or the 5 credibly, and without his 3 pointer falling his offensive game losses most of its bite. The Pistons can't trust him to become the backup center, and Ellenson overtakes him in the rotation leaving a little over 10 million per year sitting on the bench every night for the next 4 years.
I like Jon Leuer a lot as a player. He was (like Ish Smith) pretty high on my list of guys who if the Pistons missed out on the top couple dudes (Horford and Williams for me) they should get because he is a nice player who is not likely to make them overpay. That said, I'm not sure how much i like the contract. Just because, as much as I like him, he is still very unproven. And with Ish Smith for instance, if he sucks it won't be too terrible because under the new cap, there will be plenty of dudes making 4-6 million who are not in the rotation. But looking at other guys making around 10 million, Leuer is getting paid to be a solid contributor. Once again, I think he will be one and it will be a perfectly nice contract, but it does worry me a bit.
The other thing that gives me a bit of pause about Leuer (and was the main thing that made me a bit less high on him heading into free agency) is that him and Ellenson figure to be damn near the exact same sort of player. That isn't the end of the world because as long as Leuer is still good it's fine to have a little redundancy (see the Mobias combo) but still, it is at least a little puzzling. The thing that I am hoping for is that Baynes leaves next offseason, and then Leuer moves to backup center and Ellenson is the full time backup PF. And they could have some of the same goodies that the Mobias combo has, just at the 4 and the 5 instead of 3 and 4 positions.
All that said, I still love Leuer as a player. I really liked him on the Suns last year and I think he will be a wonderful fit on the Pistons. One of the most important things with him is that he has enough variety in his game that he can fill in playing starters minutes more respectably than someone like Tolly can. And the 4 years will keep him with the Pistons for the rest of his prime which is always a nice thing.
Lastly, I kind of like how, at this point, the idendity of this Pistons team is like the lost boys of neverland. And SVG is basically Peter Pan (Disney version. None of the eating little boys stuff.) The team is full of guys that were unwanted other places and bounced around before they found a home with the Pistons. Other than the guys drafted by the Pistons, every guy on the roster fits that bill to some extent. And even most of the guys the Pistons drafted have that a little bit. A bunch of guys who work their tails off and have a chip on their shoulders.
How does this affect the rest of free agency?
Obviously it puts the Pistons out of contention for any big name dudes (although they are pretty much all gone anyways) HOWEVA, they still can have between 8-10 million still to use if they want it. They have 2 more roster spots to fill (Assuming I counted right. I've counted like 5 times. I hope I didn't forget someone lol) and if they wanted too they could just keep Lorenzo Brown and Joel Anthony on roster as cheap end of bench guys at this point and roll over the cap space into next year, which wouldn't be a horrible idea because they will likely have to pay 2 SGs. Or they could try and add one more guy yet. I would be totally fine with them just rolling with Anthony and Brown, but if they don't I'd love to see them try and do one of 3 things.
- Take a flier on a guy like Lance Stephenson, Seth Curry, Bob Mcadoo etc. Since they have all the holes plugged, see if they could steal a solid player, and if it doesn't work it doesn't really hurt them.
- Try for some restricted FAs with some offer sheets. Obviously they couldn't go for the bigger name guys, but maybe Ian Clarke, Tarik Black, or Troy Daniels might be worth sniffing around. Once again, if they miss out on the guys it doesn't hurt that they tied up the cap space for the 3 days or whatever and they can just roll with Brown and Anthony or just grab a couple guys at the vet minimum.
- Overpay a veteran on a 1 year contract. If the Pistons don't retain Anthony, then I'm not kidding, Jon Leuer and Ish Smith will be the oldest guys on the team at 27 years old. That's not a horrible thing, but enough players have said that it really matter to have some old dudes who are real professionals around. So if the Pistons could coax, say, Kirk Heinrich, Louis Scola, or Mike Miller into a 1 year contract (so as not to tie up future cap space) with extra money in order to come and be old fogies on a super young team (and at least in the case of Scola, a guy who can actually still play a bit) then I'd be cool with that. (Obviously under each category there are lots of other options with the players, the guys listed were just for example. Not necessarily even the guys I would want.)
What do you think? How will Jon Leuer do? What else (if anything) would you like to see the Pistons do in free agency? Let me know! We all get smarter!