During this past off-season, the Detroit Pistons were trying to figure out the makeup of the roster coming into the season. Even coming off a remarkable season and the team’s first playoff berth since the 2008-09 campaign.
One big hole on the roster was finding a suitable power forward off the bench to spell Tobias Harris from time to time. And with the cap for each team going up this past summer, teams were able to spend some big bucks. Detroit did certainly not shy away when they came to a deal for four years and $42MM with Jon Leuer.
Entering this year, Leuer had spent parts of the previous five seasons with four different teams, most recently last year in Phoenix. The 6-foot-10, 225-pound former Wisconsin star has been primarily a reserve in his career. In the 253 games played prior to this season, Leuer had averaged 13.7 minutes of playing time and started in 45 of those 253 games played. He proved to be a modest asset off the bench during this stretch, posting 5.6 points and 2.7 rebounds per contest while hitting the 3-ball at a 37.5 percent clip.
The long-term investment in a largely unproven bench player came at a bit of a surprise at the time, but perhaps not as much given the inflated cap room for teams. And Detroit was looking for a viable option to replace Anthony Tolliver at that No. 4 spot. But so far through 27 games, head coach Stan Van Gundy is getting excellent production from Leuer.
Leuer has already nearly doubled his playing time (26.6 minutes per game) than the previous five years combined and he’s seeing a noticeable uptick in the numbers. Already, he’s posting career marks in points (10.6), total rebounds (6.4), free throw percentage (87.2) and even 2-point field goal percentage (58.3). For a predominant three-point threat off the bench in his career, to see a guy like Leuer take advantage of improved playing time and reflect in improvements elsewhere, it’s encouraging to see. And that is despite just hitting 30 percent of his attempts from downtown so far.
Leuer has already been in double-digit scoring in more than half of the games Detroit has played this year. He’s coming off a season-best 19 points on 8-9 shooting from the field in a 95-85 win Wednesday night in Dallas. And if you’re into analytics, Leuer currently has an offensive rating* of 117, the highest mark in the team. And if one were to look at his plus/minus for the season, his +103 on the year and +3.8 per game ranks second in both categories behind those of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (+116 and +4.5, respectively).
It sounds a bit odd that a backup power forward a rather lengthy and lucrative deal by NBA standards, but Leuer has excelled early on, effectively playing like a starter at time given the spike in minutes. And he’s added some versatility in being able to play more down low, as evident by increases in shooting percentage inside the arc and hitting shots from the charity stripe. How long the Badger and Minnesota-native can keep this up for remains to be seen, but Detroit is not where they are without the services of Leuer
*Rating comes from Basketball-Reference