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The Kool-Aid Stand: All aboard the Jon Leuer hype train — ample seating still available

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Jon Leuer isn’t the player you think he is — he’s a highly skilled big man who can do everything but hit 3-pointers.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Phoenix Suns

We’ll always have those first 34 magical games. Signed during the absolutely bananas offseason in 2016, Jon Leuer was a player nobody expected to make big money and Stan Van Gundy shocked the world by handing him $42 million over four years. For 34 games he looked like a genius.

Then it all came apart.

But those first 34 games weren’t a fluke! Jon Leuer is a good basketball player. A very good basketball player even. What Jon Leuer isn’t is a starter – he proved that AFTER those first 34 magical games. He was put in the starting lineup so Tobias Harris could roast fools off the bench, and Leuer’s production immediately cratered. He also proved he wasn’t healthy. He did that last season – hobbling through eight games before being sidelined the rest of the way with an ankle injury that eventually required surgery.

But let’s go back to those first 34 magical games.

Leuer showed he was a versatile power forward center with plenty of athleticism and even more intuition. He wasn’t a player you just give the ball to and let go to work. He was, instead the perfect secondary player. He was always cutting, finding gaps in the defense and fighting for position.

His true shooting percentage by month:

  • October: 52.7 percent
  • November: 56.7 percent
  • December: 62.4 percent

His net rating by month:

  • October: 9.0
  • November: 0.8
  • December: 7.7

Sadly, his net rating sank like a stone: January (-6.7), February (-6.3), March (-8.8) and April (-21.0, LOL), and his true shooting percentage sank to the low 50s, then the 40s then the 30s.

Wait…aren’t I supposed to be talking UP Jon Leuer? Oh, yeah.

Honestly, as the charter member of the Jon Leuer bandwagon, it’s not that heard to talk myself, and therefore you, into Leuer having a big bounce back season.

Whenever we go to the Kool-Aide zone, everyone is always healthy forever, so there’s that. Jon Leuer is going to have perfect health. It’s going to be great! He’s also not going to be a starter – he’s going to be feasting on under-skilled big men off the bench. He can outsmart young forwards and he can fly past any plodding centers when he is playing as a small-ball 5.

The Pistons have been a putrid offense, and that led to too much scoring burden being placed on Leuer, who is best as a reliable third or fourth option. Even during that putrid final stretch run in 2016-17, Leuer had the third-highest true shooting percentage among rotation players (55.1) and fourth-highest win shares per 48 minutes (.112 with .100 being generally considered around starter level).

Detroit has, mercifully, brought in some additional scoring punch that should help find easy looks for Leuer, and will allow him to be that third or fourth option that is just an amazing pain in the ass for the opposing team.

He also isn’t being sucked into the vortex known as the Tolliverse. Anthony Tolliver is gone (I’m still not over it either). That means that there are plenty of minutes available at the power forward spot behind Blake Griffin. I’m not going to bag on his competition, but let’s just say that I am more irrationally excited about Jon Leuer than I am about Henry Ellenson and leave it at that.

For Leuer to be truly effective, Dwane Casey has to let him excel at the things Leuer excels at – sounds easy, right? Well, it might not actually be the things you THINK Leuer excels at. Leuer was signed and the first thing that came out of almost everyone’s mouth, including mine, was “stretch big.”

Leuer might be big, but he don’t got much stretch in him. It’s surprising, I know. I mean, he’s tall, has decent looking shot and he’s a dorky looking white guy. I thought all dorky looking white guys were stretch bigs.

Not so fast.

Leuer shot just 29 percent on 3s in 2016-17, and only marginally better (35.4 percent) from between the 3-point line and 16 feet. He ranked in only the 28th percentile as a spot-up shooter. So what did he excel at?

Leuer is an awesome basket cutter, ranking in the 93rd percentile. He’s not super strong, but he gets good positioning. He’s also a good post-up weapon (82nd percentile) and solid in transition (74th percentile).

Collectively, all those solid offensive attributes accounted for only 42 percent of his offensive possessions. The Pistons need to let Leuer do those traditional big man things that he is good at, and stop thinking that 3-point shot is going to fall.

Let Jose Calderon be the 3-point shooter. Let Luke Kennard be the 3-point shooter. Let Blake Griffin be the 3-point shooter. Let Andre Drum … I know we’re being optimistic, but let’s not go crazy. Let Reggie Bullock be the 3-point shooter! They can hoist from the perimeter and Jon Leuer can do everything else.