Leonard playing catch-up at Blazers summer league

Shoulder injury slowed third-year center

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers Writer

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LAS VEGAS — This is a big summer for Meyers Leonard, and he knows it more than anyone.

The third-year center comes into a pivotal season in his young NBA career.

But, Leonard suffered a bit of setback in the days leading up to summer league. He hurt his shoulder, forcing him to watch the Blazers first two summer league games from the bench.

Leonard said that it was “frustrating,” especially so because he felt like he has had a good month of June and summer league training camp leading up to their arrival in Las Vegas.

After missing the first games of round-robin play, Leonard made the decision to get on the court.

“My shoulder felt alright,” said Leonard, who started and played over 21 minutes, scoring 7 points in his debut. “There was no pain with anything I did out there. I just weighed my options, looked at the MRI and stuff and went to a couple of doctors. I made a decision on my own that I wanted to play.”

“Obviously this is a big summer for me,” Leonard said.

Leonard said that he had not run up and down the floor for about a week.

“My legs definitely felt really sluggish and my lungs were burning,” Leonard said. “I haven’t done anything really for a week. You talk about full court contact and all that kind of stuff. It’s pretty natural for me to be gassed, but I played okay.”

Leonard isn’t worried about getting back into shape and feels that will comeback naturally after he gets back on the court. But being an athlete and running the court hasn’t been the issue with Leonard.

On Tuesday, Leonard said he’s never felt more comfortable in executing Portland’s pick-and-roll defense in his career. He was calling out coverages and converging at the rim to contest shots.

“Without question,” Leonard said when asked if he is more comfortable executing Portland’s schemes. “The calls are becoming easier. I’m understanding how far back, how far forward and how far laterally I should be.”

Leonard had yet to get direct feedback from his coaches. But in this two-plus years in Portland, he’s usually been very honest in assessing his progress.

The fact that he’s feeling comfortable instead of waiting for the comfort to come like he has in the past is a difference.

Blazers assistant coach Nate Tibbetts said Leonard got settled in after picking up some cheap fouls in the early going.

“I thought the first quarter he started a little bit slow,” Tibbetts said. “He had a really good camp and then he hurt his shoulder. He hasn’t done any live action, a little 2-on-2 yesterday. I think after the first quarter he played his best basketball.”

“I’m feeling much more comfortable in those situations and that’s what they want from me, defense and rebounding,” Leonard said.

Leonard didn’t collect a rebound on the night, something he said he knows he needs to correct. In the third quarter, he got a 3-pointer to go and a big dunk, getting his rhythm while also helping patrol the paint.

Along with his defense, Leonard has tried to follow the pleads of his coaches to be less tentative offensively.

“I continue to focus on my shot because I know I can make it,” Leonard said.

The learning curve for big men in the league is often bigger than other players in the league. While the project of Meyers Leonard is still a work on progress, he is encouraged that there is progress being made.

“I just have to build not his and continue to move forward because I’ve had a good summer so far and hopefully I can keep it up.”