Jon Leuer played for four teams in five years and made a total of around $5 million before the Detroit Pistons shocked the NBA by handing him four years and $42 million guaranteed. Coming off of a season shooting 38 percent from 3 with the Phoenix Suns, Leuer had the following 3-point percentages by month:
October – 40%
November – 29.8%
December – 33.3%
January – 42.9%
February – 23.5%
March – 22.2%
April – 25.0%
Signed to take the place of Ersan Ilyasova and Anthony Tolliver, Leuer definitely failed to deliver the stretch big threat that is so important to the Pistons base pick-and-roll attack. Ironically, however, he still somehow ended up being one of the most effective players in the Pistons lineup. That says a little about how good Leuer was, but it says even more about how generally ineffective the Pistons offense was last season.
Leuer was dangerous despite a missing 3-point shot because he used his athleticism and high basketball IQ to find himself in the right place at the right time. He was always looking for gaps in the defense and was excellent on basket cuts and was especially dangerous in the mid-range from the left side of the floor.
In fact, at the beginning of the season, Leuer looked like one of the more savvy offseason additions. Prior to the All-Star break, Leuer had a true shooting percentage of 59.4 percent and had played his way into the starting lineup.
Then the bottom fell out of Leuer’s season. Whether it was the grind of heavy minutes that he had never really experienced as a bench player in the NBA, losing his confidence in his shot or both, Leuer went from offensive bright spot to black hole. After the All-Star break, his true shooting percentage sank to 45.5 percent. In other words, he went from a player with a true shooting percentage similar to Klay Thompson to a player with a true shooting percentage similar to Kris Dunn.
Leuer’s slide coincided with the team’s late-season collapse, and I think fans are likely to judge him based on his late-season struggles instead of his superior play in the first half of the year. That would be unfortunate as Leuer added a great, swiss army-like dimension on offense and was good enough on defense as a power forward and small-ball center to be a positive contributor.
The one thing he really never did at an acceptable level, however, was shoot 3s. In today’s NBA it’s really difficult to have an effective offense without a reliable 3-point threat from the power forward position. On a team like the Pistons who also lack 3-point shooting at … uhh … center, small forward, shooting guard and point guard, the lack of perimeter shooting from Leuer was compounded further.
For the season, Leuer shot 69 percent from less than 8 feet and 44.4 percent from 8-16 feet. That covered 60 percent of his 646 shots on the season. That’s the good.
The other 40 percent, though, is very bad. Leuer shot just 35.4 percent from 16—24 feet and a dreadful 29.4 percent on the 24-foot-plus shots. Getting no stretchiness out of your stretch four is certainly a problem.
There is another problem with Leuer, however, that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention. His lack of rebounding for the Pistons really hurt the team. In the three seasons prior to coming to Detroit, Leur averaged 8.9, 9.0 and 10.7 rebounds per 36 minutes. That is certainly not great, but looks a heck of a lot better than the 7.4 per 36 minutes he averaged in Detroit. Of the 85 players who are at least 6-foot-10 and played at least 15 minutes per game, only 12 had a lower rebounding percentage than Leuer. A little of that is Leuer playing alongside Andre Drummond, who is both a human rebounding vacuum and a player who forces teammates like Leuer to play much further from the paint.
Despite all this – despite the lack of 3-point shooting, the offensive struggles in the second half, despite the lack of rebounding – Leuer remained one of the most effective Pistons on the season. His 4.5 win shares tied him for third on the team with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
All else being equal, if Leuer remains similarly effective and is able to hit 3s closer to that 36 percent or 37 percent rate he’ll go from effective and underrated to extremely dangerous and helping all the other elements of the Pistons offense fall into place.