TJ Leaf went somewhat under the radar at UCLA in the shadow of Lonzo Ball, who was selected No. 2 overall by the Los Angeles Lakers. Leaf averaged 16.3 points and just over eight rebounds per game, making the Pac-12 first team.
The 6'10" standout was projected to be a first-round selection himself, and the Indiana Pacers selected him at No. 18 overall.
Learn more about Leaf below.
Bio: Leaf was a highly-regarded recruit who enjoyed the spotlight at UCLA, pairing nicely with Lonzo Ball as a big man who tends to make the game look simple. He cemented his first-round status with a strong freshman season and made the Pac-12 first team in the process. Leaf hails from California but has played for the Israeli national team at youth levels (he was born in Tel-Aviv, where his father played professionally). He’s among an intriguing group of stretch forwards in this class.
Strengths: A diverse offensive skill set paired with explosive leaping ability makes Leaf a tough cover. He runs the floor hard, plays the glass on both ends and has a variety of post moves to compliment a consistent set jumper from outside. He’s a good passer and intelligent player who can play in a variety of offensive systems. He could become a good pick and pop player, and his athletic ability offers extra upside.
Weaknesses: Leaf’s measurements aren’t favorable, with a short wingspan relative to his height that leaves him more comparable to taller small forwards than an ideal four-man. He doesn’t have ideal lateral quickness and struggles defending man-to-man as a result. He doesn’t handle it well enough yet to do a ton on the perimeter beyond spacing the floor and moving the ball. He’ll need to get stronger to deal with stronger bigs and continue to refine his skill set. If Leaf can stay on the floor defensively, he can become a solid rotational piece.
- Jeremy Woo
The Pacers were picking in a tough spot here, with several of the higher-upside prospects going immediately ahead of them. Given Paul George’s murky future, Indiana had to draft the best player available, and Leaf is a pretty safe selection with a clear fit in the NBA. He’s athletic and highly skilled on offense and should give the Pacers scoring and allow them to spread the floor. They’ll hope his defensive shortcomings are mitigated by Myles Turner’s rim protection. He looks like a bankable asset, and that’s the smart choice for Indiana. – Jeremy Woo
Fast facts about Leaf
Birthday: April 30, 1997
Position: Power forward
Weight: 225 lbs.
Hometown: El Cajon, Calif.
High School: Foothills Christian