TJ Leaf NBA Draft Profile

T.J. Leaf, Freshman, Forward, UCLA
T.J. Leaf was a well-known high school recruit coming into UCLA along with Lonzo Ball. Leaf wasn’t supposed to be a top NBA prospect as a freshman, but exceeded expectations in his lone season for the Bruins. NBA teams will love Leaf’s ability to stretch the floor as a power forward. Standing 6-10 with a 220 lb. frame, his body might not be ready for the NBA right away, but he already displays a high level of athleticism. He thrived in UCLA’s up-tempo offense and will play a similar role at the next level.
Leaf can be used as a versatile weapon in an NBA offense. He’s a good athlete for his size and runs the floor well. He’s dangerous in transition as he can make himself available for easy buckets at the rim, trail the play for a pull-up three or he can even lead the fast-break himself. His handle isn’t overly advanced, but he has better dribbling ability than most big men his size. He also has impressive vision, notching 2.4 assists per game at UCLA. In the half-court, Leaf is mostly used to spacing the floor. He is capable of scoring in the post, but needs quite a bit of work to survive down low in the NBA. He’s an efficient scorer, shooting 64.4% from inside the arc. He finishes at the rim with finesse, using his footwork and soft touch. He does struggle against defensive length and inside contact. He will need to add some muscle to his frame to withstand the rigor of the NBA.
Leaf’s most important skill that he will need to carry over to the next level is his outside shooting ability. He hit an impressive 46.6% from downtown at UCLA, but on just 1.7 attempts per game. He only shot 67.9% from the free-throw line, which will be alarming to NBA teams as free-throw shooting removes outside factors from the shooting stroke. If his shot translates, he can be used in a variety of ways in an NBA offense. He can hit spot-up threes in transition or off penetration. He can be used in ball screens and fade out for pick and pop opportunities. He’s also capable of attacking closeouts and making a jumper off the dribble. Due to his average strength, it will be crucial for Leaf to stretch the floor with his perimeter game at the power forward position.
Where Leaf will find the hardest time staying on the floor in the NBA is on defense. His lack of strength comes into play here as well, as he is easily scored on in the post. He did average just over one block per game, but with a mediocre 6-11 wingspan, he isn’t likely to be much of a rim protector. Where teams will expose Leaf the most is in pick and roll defense. He has very poor lateral quickness and is a major liability when forced to defend the perimeter. Leaf was a solid rebounder in college with 8.2 boards per game, but he used his instincts and athleticism more so than physicality or technique, which won’t work at the next level. His lack of defensive ability makes it all the more important that he is effective on offense or he will be unplayable.
Final Projection:
T.J. Leaf is an exciting prospect in today’s NBA from an offensive perspective. He can run the floor, stretch defenses with his shooting and has good dribbling and passing ability for his size. If Leaf is able to add some strength, he can be of great value as a stretch power forward. However, for as useful as Leaf can be offensively, he can be just as ineffective on the defensive end. If he can prove to be a consistent weapon on offense, then teams will be willing to hide him on defense. However, if Leaf’s jump shot and perimeter game doesn’t carry over to the NBA, he will have a hard time lasting in the league.