Evaluation: T.J. Leaf

Aug. 12 -- T.J. Leaf, the talented 2016 power forward from Foothill Christian in El Cajon (Calif.), is rumored to potentially be heading to UCLA. Here's a look at what the Bruins might be getting if he does sign with the Bruins...

T.J. Leaf, the 6-9 senior power forward from El Cajon (Calif.) Foothills Christian that recently decommitted from Arizona, is a terrific prospect with a chance to contribute early at the college level. With UCLA projected as his leader at this time, we thought we’d offer our thoughts on him as a prospect.

The best part of Leaf’s game is the fact that he’s highly skilled. It’s rare that you see young kids his size that possess his combination of ball skills (both handling and passing), as well as the ability to play both inside and on the perimeter. His handle and agility give him the ability to put the ball on the floor when he takes defenders to the perimeter. He’s a good, not great, athlete in terms of his agility/mobility/feet. He’s not a big-time runner/leaper, but he moves well for his size. And defenders have to extend out on him due to his very good shooting touch. He’s got a very nice stroke and he’s capable of knocking down mid-range jumpers off the bounce, as well as from three-point range.

He’s got a nice touch inside the paint, with a fairly good jump hook, and good footwork when he gets around the rim. At the high school level, he’s able to score over a lot of defenders. He should ultimately be a weapon inside at the college level as well, but he will need to add weight/strength before he can really become effective inside against high-major competition.

However, it’s this offensive versatility that makes Leaf such an intriguing prospect. Opponents might try smaller, quicker defenders to take away his perimeter game. But he’s got enough of an inside game that it will be difficult to just put your best 6-6 athlete on him. And if opponents try to defend him with a post player, Leaf will likely be able to take them to the perimeter and use his ball skills/agility/mobility to good effect. He figures to eventually be a match-up problem for a lot of teams.

I say eventually because, as good a prospect as he is, he doesn’t project to be a dominant guy right away in college. He should be a solid contributor as a freshman, but he definitely needs to get stronger for the next level, as well as continue to improve in all areas of his game. He’s a really good prospect, but he’s not a complete player yet. As a point of reference, he’s not as good a prospect as Kyle Singler at the same stage. And it took Singler a couple years before he became a really good player at Duke.

In terms of his offensive game, I feel pretty comfortable saying Leaf should eventually be a high-level player in college. Where there is more of a question, though, is in the areas of defense/toughness/physicality/rebounding. He’s a fairly good rebounder right now, but still has room for improvement. Defensively, he’s like a lot of high school kids; he’s not terrible by any means, but it’s certainly an area where he needs to focus and improve. The physicality/toughness part will hopefully get better as he gains weight and strength. It’s not surprising that he’s something of a finesse player today, given that he has such a high skill level. Eventually, though, he’ll need to become more physical to really be an impact player in college.

Overall, Leaf is a very promising prospect. He’s not a no-brainer in terms of the NBA (or even being a great player in college). But he’s got enough positive attributes that you can probably project him as an eventual all-conference player (assuming he stays in school long enough).



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