The Suns had no problem with the Blazers on Wednesday, and Portland’s front line defense, or lack thereof, was the main reason why. Marcin Gortat and Jermaine O’Neal combined for 39 points on 18-of-23 shooting, and a lot of those buckets came at the expense of Meyers Leonard.
Leonard is a rookie who now has just 11 NBA games under his belt. But that didn’t stop Blazers coach Terry Stotts from calling him out by name for his poor defensive play during his postgame comments.
From Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com:
Following the game, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts did something he has never done during his brief tenure as the team’s coach…he called out one of his players.
“He (Meyers Leonard) needs to work on his individual post defense,” Stotts said. Gortat scored on him, Jermaine O’Neal scored on him. He’s trying, but right now, he’s a poor post defender one-on-one.”
Stotts is clearly trying to send a message with those comments. But you won’t hear Leonard disagreeing with his coach’s critique.
“I got to get better at defense,” Leonard admitted. “It’s a learning process. I got to have better anticipation, better everything. So we just as a team, got to get better and definitely for myself.”
There’s no question Leonard was brutal defensively, but some of the blame has to go to the coaching staff here, as well.
When you’re getting destroyed inside as Leonard was, you need to come with a double-team and make your opponent move the ball and start hitting some outside shots. It didn’t help that his relief was Joel Freeland and Victor Claver, neither of whom have any chance of defending legitimate NBA bigs at this stage of their respective careers.
Leonard will continue to struggle defensively until he adds some bulk to his 7’1″, 245-lb. frame, and gets some time with some development coaches to work on his footwork and learn to use some veteran tactics.
In the meantime, calling him out isn’t going to help. But figuring out that the real problem is relying on Leonard to defend legitimate post players all by himself right now, when he’s clearly not up to that task yet, just might.