Pacers Gain Depth With Versatile UCLA Forwards Leaf and Anigbogu
In a packed Barclays Center on Thursday night, the loudest cheer of the night came when the Philadelphia 76ers selected Markelle Fultz number one overall, with Philly fans hailing what they hope is the completion of a years-long process.
The Pacers meanwhile, were getting started on a process of their own, upgrading their roster with a high-level shooter and a high-ceiling forward, both one-and-done products of UCLA. With the 18th pick, Indiana selected UCLA power forward TJ Leaf, giving the Pacers a young and versatile player capable of getting NBA minutes from the start. At 47th, Indiana was able to snag Ike Anigbogu out of UCLA, another player with the ability to grow into a serious weapon in the modern NBA, but one who will need more time before becoming a regular contributor.
To cap off the night, Indiana made a deal to nab guard Edmond Sumner out of Xavier, netting them a total of three players.
Leaf, who just recently turned 20, is already well versed in what it takes to have an NBA-style offense, having helped lead UCLA to a 31-5 record alongside the number two overall pick Lonzo Ball.
When asked how he might fit alongside Turner, whose 3-point shot is starting to develop, Leaf was quick to mention that he too can create space: "I just think my ability to stretch the floor and pass, I think will be a really good complement to Myles in the post."
In his one season with the Bruins, Leaf proved to be a ruthlessly efficient scorer, shooting 61.7 percent from the field, which included hitting on 46 percent of his 3-point shots.
In addition, Leaf displayed good hands on the glass, hauling in 8.2 rebounds per game.
While Leaf is likely ready for NBA action on Day 1, he will have a chance to ease into the NBA waters, since Thaddeus Young projects to be the starting power forward going into next season.
Young shot 38 percent from 3-point distance last year (and was even more accurate before an injury to his shooting wrist), which means Indiana's first power forward off the bench in the 2017-18 season will also be a weapon from deep.
In addition to being a good fit on the court, Leaf already fits off the court, with connections that run deep in Indiana.
"Most of my family is from the Indiana area," Leaf explained. "I spent a lot of time in the summers and whatnot. My Dad was from Indianapolis and my Mom was from Evansville."
Having grown up with Indiana as a second home, Leaf is eager to make it his first home, expressing excitement about getting to work with his new set of teammates.
The selection of Leaf with other highly touted prospects on the board, such as Wake Forest's John Collins, might signal part of a grander plan from the Pacers, grabbing a player with the potential to be an elite shooter at the forward position.
With four forwards on the roster capable of lighting it up from deep at a high level (Young, Leaf, Niang, and Turner), Indiana's guards should have more freedom than ever when it comes to driving the lane, with opposing defenses needing to stay home on Indiana's bigs.
"It's pretty much what this league is going to, bigs who can shoot the ball," explained Pacers head coach Nate McMillan following their selection of Leaf.
Whether or not Anigbogu can shoot the ball remains an unknown, since the 6-foot, 9-inch 18-year-old didn't play big minutes for the Bruins last season. While his averages from his sole year in school — 13 minutes, 4.7 points, and four rebounds — may seem uninspiring, it was Anigbogu's measurements that had some scouts speculating that he may go as high as a lottery pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. At the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, Anigbogu measured a wingspan of 7-feet, 6-inches.
But, much to the Pacers' fortunes, Anigbogu slid down the draft board, falling all the way into Indiana's lap at 47th overall.
"I wasn't trying to think about where I was going to be picked," said Anigbogu of his draft night. "It's just the right program, had a great workout with (the Pacers), and I have TJ, so basically, this is the number one pick in my heart."
Following his selection and shaking hands on stage with the NBA's deputy commissioner Mark A. Tatum, Anigbogu walked into the main concourse of the Barclays Center, with his family and friends giving him a roaring applause as him and Leaf shared a hug.
Draft night had ended, and the pair of Bruins were still teammates.