Right from the start of his time in Portland, Meyers Leonard was misunderstood in Portland.
“A seven-footer out there at the three-point line launching bombs?"
“Why isn’t he inside at the post?"
“Why isn’t he in the paint where he belongs?"
Leonard was ahead of his time, of course. Big guys are shooting threes routinely these days and traditional low-post centers are not as common as they used to be. The NBA is all about threes, nowdays, like it or not.
Leonard’s playing time went up and down through his time as a Trail Blazer, even in his seventh and best season in a Portland uniform. The backup center shot 54.5 percent from the floor last year, 45 percent from three-point range and 84.3 percent from the free-throw line but still played in only 61 games and averaged just 14.4 minutes per game. Even in the playoffs, when he would show his value as a scorer, he did not play in five of the team’s 16 postseason games.
Throughout that final season as a Trail Blazer, though, Leonard seemed to finally win over the fans. They noticed his athletic ability, dunking skills and confidence in clutch situations. And they probably also took note of his sideline demeanor – even when he wasn’t playing, he was the first man off the bench to congratulate teammates and cheer good plays.
When he exploded in the final game of the conference finals against Golden State, it was a vindication of sorts for those who believed all along he deserved playing time on a team that so often struggled to find floor spacing and outside shooting. Those people who never understood how he could have been playing behind the likes of Thomas Robinson and Joel Freeland.
Leonard played 40 minutes and 17 seconds in his finale in a Portland uniform. He made 12 of his 16 shots from the floor while missing just three of his eight three-point attempts. He had 25 points by halftime and 30 for the game, while grabbing 12 rebounds and dishing three assists with just two turnovers.
More than that, he gave the team what it had been lacking the entire series – somebody with the gravity to keep the floor spread for his guards to operate.
That game proved to be a fond farewell for a player the Portland fans were slow to take into their hearts. The fans chanted his name, cheered his every move and he just continued to do what he’d always done – shoot threes and play as hard as anyone on the court.
“The Hammer” as he was called, nailed it in his final game. And it was obvious how much that meant to him – not only how well he played but how he was embraced by the Trail Blazer fans.
But listen to him talk about it in the accompanying video feature as he reflects on growing up in Portland. See the emotion on his face and hear it in his voice – and understand how much this team and this city meant to Meyers Leonard.