Image Courtesy of Ron Hoskins, NBAE
The Portland Trail Blazers have signed 23-year-old 1997 born power forward TJ Leaf to a two-way contract. He was originally drafted out of UCLA by the Indiana Pacers 17th overall in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft. During his first season in the league, he spent time with the NBA G-League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants. In three games played with the Mad Ants, Leaf averaged 23.3 ppg. But he never really panned out with the Pacers, only grabbing 3.3 ppg in three seasons. In two playoff games, he only collected two points for an average of 1.0 ppg. Prior to being drafted, Leaf played a single season at UCLA where he averaged 16.3 ppg in 35 games played. He earned three awards during his time with the Bruins in 2017 picking up AP honorable mention All-American, First-Team All-Pac-12 and the Pac-12 All-Freshman team.
In November of 2020, Leaf was dealt along with a 2027 second round draft pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for guard Jalen Lecque. Leaf was waived by OKC the following month after the team’s last pre-season game.
Transition to Portland and Player Development
While Leaf will be a two-way player for Portland, he’ll be a good young veteran to fill in if needed. If Portland has any injuries come up at the forward position, expect Leaf to fill in. The two-way contract also allows for the team to not have to keep him on the roster all season with the ability to option him to the G-League. Leaf also fills a need on the defensive side of the ball which Portland has struggled with this season.
One aspect to think about is his ability as a veteran power forward to mentor younger players. This especially rings true for the younger players in the G-League. Any time Leaf spends in the G-League is time he’ll be able to help the younger players at that level develop their game. However, it should be noted that Portland is one of the few teams that doesn’t have a G-League affiliate. For players still developing their game, a G-League team is an important element so those players get regular game minutes. However, for Leaf he’s joining a team who has other front court players who can mentor him. These players include Carmelo Anthony, Robert Covington, Enes Kanter and Jusuf Nurkic. He also joins another 1997 born forward Derrick Jones Jr. in the front court.
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