Memphis (Tenn.) Briarcrest
Class of 2009
To look at where Leslie is now, I think that it's important for us to take a look at where he's come from. Emerging onto the national scene as a high school freshman, he's a kid that has been watched pretty closely by national analysts and college coaches for quite some time. Personally, I first saw him play at the Nike Hoop Jamboree in St. Louis during June of 2006. At the time, I was taken by his mature approach to the game and his all-around solid play and I wrote the following in my scouting service for college coaches: "If his play in St. Louis is on par with how he usually plays and he keeps developing, he could be one of the premier guards in his class."
Given that the spotlight has been shining on him for so long, I think Leslie's greatest strength may be in his maturity and his approach to the game. Where so many other kids have let the attention go to their head or stopped working, McDonald is still the same hard working, mature and outgoing kid that I saw a little over two and a half years ago.
He's never been a guy that has needed to take a bunch of shots to be productive and he's also never been one to force too many things. He's a good ball handler -- who has made significant strides dribbling with his off (left) hand in the past few months -- capable of geting into the lane where he can finish or create for others if nothing is there. Additionally, he is quite adept at using the dribble to create space for pull-up jumpers from between 12 and 17 feet.
Because of added strength and improved quickness, McDonald is also a fine defender. He understands how to play off the ball and can move from a help position back into a defensive stance on his man without losing him. He's not necessarily a guy who gets a ton of steals, but he rarely takes gambles that leave him in poor position.
As much as his maturity and unselfishness are strengths, McDonald's willingness to involve and trust others sometimes works against him. At times, it's important for a player like him to be a bit more aggressive and understand that there's not going to be many times on the high school level that anybody can really stop him. There's no question he wants to win and plays to do so, but every now and then a top prospect has to be able shift things up into another gear and become more of a killer.
McDonald's jump shot also remains a work in progress. While he's generally a pretty good shooter in the mid-range and off of the dribble, he's still developing his shot from deep, coming off of screens or when he's spotted up. In the past, he's had some balance issues but he's getting a much better base and the improved footwork is allowing a quicker release with more explosion off the floor. Also, McDonald has really worked on his release point and shooting a ball that has more arch and rotation on it.
At this point, I think the most effective position in college for McDonald is the shooting guard. He's got good size for the position, defends it well and will be able to serve as a secondary ball handler and creator from that position. It's conceivable that he could also play some spot minutes at the point because of his improved ball handling, but it's probably more likely that his other minutes would come at small forward.
Scout.com currently ranks McDonald as the No. 63 player in the country and the No. 13 shooting guard prospect. At this point, that doesn't seem to be an unfair ranking, but an argument could be made that there's some room for him to move up, especially given the positive developments in his size -- he looks to have grown nearly an inch since the summer – as well as his jumper and his overall quickness. In my personal rankings, I currently have McDonald at No. 39 in the country and after watching him again over the weekend I feel pretty good about where I have him.
McDonald will probably go down as one of my personal favorite players to watch in the class of 2009. A lot of that has to do with his personality and the way he carries himself as a young man both on and off of the floor. His pleasant nature and versatile play on the court will make him a kid that fans can root for easily and he's a perfect fit for North Carolina. Looking back, I projected that he would end up as one of the premier guards in the class of 2009 and I think it's safe to say that's exactly where he is. The fact that he comes ego free is icing on the cake.