2018-19 Pistons Profile: Jon Leuer
After failing to make the playoffs last season, Pistons owner Tom Gores made the call to change course. Ed Stefanski was hired to run the front office and his first big move was to hire Dwane Casey, reigning NBA Coach of the Year. The roster is set, a new coaching staff and front office is in place and training camp is around the corner. In the days leading up to its opening we’ll look at each player on the roster and assess how he fits into the puzzle for the 2018-19 season. Today: Jon Leuer. Friday: Zaza Pachulia.
ID card:29 years old, entering 8th season, 6-foot-10, power forward/center
Last year in review: It was a lost season for Leuer, who twisted his left ankle on Halloween night in a loss at Staples Center and never suited up again. It was anticipated to be a two-week injury – just another sprained ankle – and Leuer actually was on target for a return within that window, going through a practice after the swelling ebbed. But there was an underlying problem: bone chips from past sprain ankles had lodged in ligaments in Leuer’s ankle. He resisted surgery as an option for as long as he could, anticipating that therapy would adequately address the issue, but finally succumbed and underwent surgery in January. Before the injury, Leuer was actually spending most of his 17 minutes a game as Andre Drummond’s backup at center ahead of Eric Moreland and Boban Marjanovic. Leuer appeared to lack confidence in his jump shot, taking only three 3-point attempts in 136 minutes and making none.
Career at a glance: Leuer, who grew up in suburban Minneapolis, spent four years at Wisconsin – emerging as a premier Big Ten player over his last two seasons – and was drafted 40th in 2011 by the Milwaukee Bucks. He was traded to Houston and waived after his rookie season, then fought his way back to the NBA via the D-League with Cleveland before being traded to Memphis in 2013. Leuer gained some traction with the Grizzlies in his two seasons there, then capitalized on greater opportunity with Phoenix in 2015-16 and parlayed that into a four-year deal in free agency with the Pistons in July 2016. Leuer’s best NBA season came in his first year with the Pistons when he averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds in 26 minutes a game, 34 as a starter. Leuer was especially effective in 51 games before the All-Star break when he averaged 11.2 points and 5.7 rebounds in 27 minutes a game and shot 51 percent; after the break, Leuer’s numbers declined to 8.2 points and 4.7 rebounds in 23.5 minutes with 41 percent shooting, including 20 percent from the 3-point line. Leuer shot 38 percent from the arc with Phoenix in his only season there.
Anticipated role: Leuer will be one of three big men jockeying for a role off of Dwane Casey’s bench behind frontcourt staples Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin. Like Henry Ellenson, Leuer can play both positions and, in fact, Leuer is more equipped to guard a greater variety of frontcourt opponents than either Ellenson or Zaza Pachulia, strictly a center. A complicating factor in Leuer’s ability to compete for minutes is the early-August knee injury he suffered and subsequent surgery to repair medial meniscus cartilage damage in his right knee. There has been no timetable given for Leuer’s return, though a typical window for relatively minor meniscus surgery would be six to eight weeks. If that’s the case with Leuer, he would be on track to be available before the Oct. 17 start of the regular season and potentially in time for the start of training camp later this month.
It will be a good season if... : Leuer is cleared to play before or during training camp and exhibits the confidence in his shot that has appeared to be lacking since the 2017 All-Star break. At his best, Leuer is a valuable and versatile frontcourt player who can play at or away from the rim on both ends of the floor. Leuer was arguably the team’s best frontcourt defender for those first 50-some games of 2016-17 in addition to being an efficient scorer. Leuer won’t create many shots on his own, but he’s shown he can make open jump shots while being an effective transition player, as well. Casey arrives from Toronto with a reputation for instilling confidence in shooters who’ve had spotty success. If he can rehabilitate Leuer’s confidence, the Pistons will have a reliable and versatile frontcourt reserve who could well become the first player off the bench behind either Drummond or Griffin.