This draft features a ton of talent, and because of that, guys like TJ Leaf may be available when the Hawks select in the first round. Coach Budenholzer loves to have big men that can stroke the rock. Leaf is exactly that. At 6′ 10″, Leaf shot an unbelievable 46.6% from the three-point line in his freshman season at UCLA. It is nearly impossible to find a player at his size with a better shooting stroke, and Budenholzer would have a field day with Leaf in his system.
Leaf is much more than a spot-up shooter though. His post-game is already extremely polished for a player at his age. That might be attributed to having basketball in his genes. His father is Bradley Leaf, who played pro basketball in Israel. Leaf also excels in the mid-range game, where he can use his size to shoot over smaller defenders.
His versatility extends beyond his jump shot. Leaf can catch the ball in the high post and put the ball on the ground and make plays attacking the basket, either scoring or passing the ball. He averaged 2.4 assists in just under 30 minutes per game, which is just a plus to have a big man who can find others for baskets out of the post.
The one thing Leaf could really improve on his size. He is most likely going to have to get stronger to compete on the boards and defensively in the NBA. However, Leaf is extremely athletic for a big man, and has the energy to run the floor and play above the rim. He also benefits from an incredible 9 foot standing reach. That reach will also make up for some of the issues he may face on the boards due to his smaller frame. It also gives him the ability to protect the rim from the power forward position. Leaf averaged 1.1 blocks a game last season.
Leaf is one of the most interesting prospects in the draft because he could turn out to be a major steal and an NBA star. He was overshadowed by projected top-3 pick, Lonzo Ball, but he was quietly one of the most productive players in the NCAA as a freshman. There are some questions whether Leaf is as good of a shooter as his numbers indicated. The sample size is small, as he averaged just under one three-pointer made per contest. However, 46.6% over the course of a season is no fluke, and it is hard to imagine after a trip to Hawks University that Leaf would not become an extremely effective NBA shooter.
Leaf’s game looks like a perfect fit for the modern day NBA, and especially Mike Budenholzer’s system. Budenholzer went to Mike Muscala many times during the stretch of games in the series versus the Wizards. He loves spacing the ball out and having shooters for Dennis Schroder to kick to when he is driving to the basket. Leaf has the potential to be an elite-level stretch four, and the Hawks might be the best organization to tap that potential.