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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Scouting Report: CJ Leslie

Height: 6'8.5''
Wingspan: 7'1.5''
Weight: 198lbs
Bday: 6/25/91

Team: North Carolina State
Class of 2014

Leslie had a rough freshman year and it showed in his body language

It seems like we have been waiting forever for CJ Leslie to turn into the dominating force he has the potential to be, but in reality, he is just coming off of his sophomore season. And if you look at the numbers during the final stretch, Leslie might have quietly already become the polarizing star we hoped for.

For Leslie, it has been a roller coaster ride. Tim Crothers did an excellent job providing a window into the mind and heart of Leslie a few days ago for SI while explaining the ups and downs of his stay in Raleigh. No need to rehash that article, but while the overall conclusion was that CJ (or Calvin) has matured a great deal since his freshman year, there still are some worrisome concerns about his character.

First off, Leslie isn't even a year removed from his "old self". The player who would sulk during practices, play selfish basketball, give up and down effort, and distance himself from those around him. The guy who didn't show up to his very first class of college. The CJ who Mark Gottfried aimed to change. He sought out to improve his body language, engage him in the game, and hold him accountable for his level of play.

Leslie was a different player at the second half of last year, helping lead the Pack to the NCAA tournament

Gottfried has been able to turn Leslie around, but it hasn't been an overnight process. You can tell Leslie is a lot more comfortable now at NC State, which is the reason he cites in coming back for his junior year. He likes where he is at now. He calls North Carolina State his "comfort zone". But what happens when he has to go to the next level? If he gets a coach he doesn't like? If things aren't going good for him? It is hard to say that he wouldn't revert back to the old CJ Leslie. In the NBA, he is going to be expected to practice hard, play games with energy, and be consistent for 82 games. Nobody will be holding his hand. Its a concern that NBA personnel will have to pry at during the interview process and this upcoming season.

At the end of last season though, everything was going good for NC State and himself. This year you can expect the same with a team that is one of the favorites to win the ACC. This year won't answer some of the questions about his ability to handle adversity and play hard at all times.

The way he performed at the end of last year though, averaging 18.3 points and 9 rebounds per game, showed what his potential is all about. CJ Leslie may be the best athlete in college basketball. He's a ridiculous leaper, very long and rangy, and has great coordination for a man his size.

His game thrives in transition. He runs the court very well for easy baskets and can also handle it coast to coast himself. He patterns his game after Kevin Garnett and offensively, there are a lot of similarities.

His form certainly needs some refining, but notice the KG-esque lean

He also operates in the halfcourt like his idol. He likes to get the ball around the foul line extended area and face up like a guard. He can go in isolation mode from this area, using risky crossovers in crowded areas to create room, in effort to get to the hoop or shoot a jumper. In this respect, CJ Leslie makes things too difficult for himself as the added flare is not necessary. Leslie is such a special athlete that his first step and explosiveness is enough to get by college power forwards. There is no need to overdribble. He also makes his shots more difficult. He has plenty of size and lift on his jumper that he can get if off over anyone, yet he chooses to crossover defenders and shoot off balance fadeaways way too much. He takes too many long 2-pters in general, but getting rid of the habit to fadeaway like KG does, should make him more efficient.

Efficiency is one area that Leslie can struggle from. He doesn't have the best shot selection or a power post game inside. His only post moves rely on his quickness. He shot 43% from the field his freshman year but did a great job getting above 50% last season (one thing he did was cut out nearly 2/3rds of his 3-pt attempts from the year before). And in his last 11 games, he was even better. Still,  when projecting him to the NBA, he needs a more defined offensive skillset. He can't rely on long jumpers and pure athleticism around the rim completely. It has been shown time and time again to be a death sentence for athletic power forwards. Also, his turnovers have not improved at all. Leslie tries to make too many plays and can be wild with his dribble. Finding a in-between game would be a great help. Right now he has the long jumper and the drive to the hoop. A little one handed floater or hook shot would make him very tough to defend.

Leslie getting low and exercising his tremendous first step

For a big man, Leslie is very slithery. He can turn corners and drive by defenders while slipping through small cracks in the defense. He does a good job of using his body and absorbing contact as well. He shows excellent body control at the rim, much more control than he shows on drives, and gets a lot of "and-1" opportunities. His athleticism is obvious a big key in his ability to finish, but he doesn't strictly rely on that.

His footwork leaves a lot to be desired and he travels way too much, but he does have one reliable basic move in the post. He likes to get deep position and quickly turn the corner over his left shoulder and finish with a reverse lay-up. Its simple, yet very effective. Farther away from the hoop near the baseline Leslie can start facing up and then use a pump fake or spin move to get close to the hoop with his back towards the basket. From there, he is pretty much money.

In his sophomore season, Gottfried gave Leslie a lot more freedom than he had in Lowe's offense. Leslie wasn't just a transition and putback guy anymore, he was able to create his own offense and he responded positively. Gottfried and Leslie are developing a good relationship. You could see Leslie get more and more confident in his skills as the season went on, ultimately having the mindset that nobody could stop him. And for the most part, that was true. In those last 11 games, he scored 14 or more points 10 times.

His offensive game needs a lot of refining, toning down, reshaping, and improvement but he has the tools to work with. He can develop a more consistent jumper. He can add some counter moves and more strength to his post game. He can pick his spots better. He can do all of this stuff, but its going to take a lot of work and a good coach. Leslie will never be the smartest player on offense, but he can eventually be good scorer and show decent efficiency.

Defensively, he needs similar work. He puts himself in bad position to defend the post by gambling for steals on entry passes. He trusts his ability to get a steal more than his ability to get a stop defending man to man in the post. He also stands too upright, shows wavering effort, and poor fundamentals. With more consistent effort, Leslie can be a solid defender. He definitely can make big time plays out that end - thanks to block shots, steals, and the ability to come up with the ball and start the break himself. He's a playmaker on the defense end more than he is a reliable man to man defender.

Overall, Leslie possessing insane physical gifts that give him the ability to dominate college competition even without a polished game. He has great lateral quickness, is a quick and explosive leaper, and runs the court as well as anyone. He is a good straight line driver even though his handles are shaky when trying to do anything more than that, which prohibits him from starting his drives out by the 3-pt line. His shot is still a work in progress, but his tendency to take terrible jumpers his freshman year was toned down to the point where he became more consistent and focused more on his post game.

Moving forward, you can expect Leslie to continue to "wow" you while leaving you wanting more. His character, playing style, effort level, and work ethic will all be obstacles in that could prevent him from going in the lottery. This season Leslie's goals should be to play with 100% effort on defense, cut down his turnovers, and expand his post game. That will be his best shot in getting him to the lottery.

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