ChrisHaynes, CSNNW.com NBA & Trail Blazers Insider
ThePortland Trail Blazers center, Meyers Leonard, is a young, specialtalent with raw skills and a phenomenal upside.
Heis athletic as they come at 7-1, 250 pounds. There has not been agame that has gone by as a member of the Trail Blazers, in whichLeonard, 20, has not had one of those jaw-dropping, athletic dunks.He'll even give you a dance to follow.
We'veall unconsciously done it. When trying to figure out whose game aplayer compares to, we often tend to search for a player who sharesthe same ethnicity. Leonard has heard the comparisons to JoelPrzybilla, Chris Kaman, Brad Miller, down to Spencer Hawes.
However,he says when he hears those comparisons, he simply dismisses them.
Itmakes no sense, that's why I disregard it, Leonard said.
Thatwasn't intended as a knock on those players. All of them are greatplayers in their own right, they just couldn't be any more different.
It'sjust a natural thing to compare players of the same race,Leonard said. Because most people say when you think about whiteguys in the NBA, they're more likely going to be able to shoot, notbe very athletic, and not jump high.
Andwhen people think of African Americans, they think they're athleticand can jump. I get it, but I can do a lot more dunks than most white7-foot guys can ever do.
Leonardsays for as long as he could remember, he's been a diligent worker inthe weight room performing the leg curls, leg press, squats, and theseated calf raises. He does however, acknowledge that a lot of hisphysical tools are natural.
Backwhen Leonard was a teenager, he says for years, his black teammatesused to joke around with the fact that he was a fast, quick, athleticwhite guy and says they were always enamored with some of the thingshe could do while in the air.
Theywould joke with me and say, 'It's not normal for you to do that,'Leonard said. Ever since AAU basketball, I've been the only whiteguy on an all-black squad, so I'm used to it and I feel like I'vegained the respect of all of my teammates.
Ifthere is a player that Leonard is comparable to, it's the formerDefensive Player of the Year and starting center for the New YorkKnicks Tyson Chandler.
WhenLeonard was a sophomore at Robinson High School in Illinois, he beganwatching players in the NBA to pattern his game after and Chandler'splay in New Orleans caught his attention.
Theway he Chandler moved in pick-and-roll scenarios on both ends, Ifeel like he guards the pick-and-roll well, and I feel like I can getout there and do that, Leonard said. And obviously, coming upwith the Hornets, especially when he was playing with CP-3 ChrisPaul catching lobs at the rim, similar to how me and Dame Lillardwere in Summer League. His game is what I've studied for a while now,because I think we have some of the same skill sets.
Chandler'scareer started off slow. He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2001NBA Draft and averaged just 6.1 points per game, 4.8 rebounds, and1.3 blocks in his rookie season.
Ittook a while before he became the defensive stopper that we knowtoday. The point is this: If Leonard, in his rookie campaign, canhave comparable numbers to Chandler's rookie year and he surelycan there's no reason why he can't become at least, aChandler-type player by the time his career is at its peak.
That'swhy it's important that we all learn to only observe one's game,size, and skill set when we attempt to make a realistic comparison.There's no reason a black player can't play like Larry Bird andthere's no reason a white player can't play like Michael Jordan.
Ithink it's us media folks, at times, being lethargic with ourassessments.
Andsometimes, the athletes do the same thing: Patterning their gameafter who they look like instead of which player fits their skillset. We all may end up regressing when it's time to associatesomeones talent to another, but hopefully, after viewing Leonard'sperspective, we can be reminded of what we're doing.
Regardlessof color, if I'm athletic, then I should be compared to someone whois athletic. That's it, Leonard said.