The UCLA Bruins have been one of the Nation’s best teams this season. A lot of fans and analysts will credit that to the play of Lonzo Ball, but it’s been T.J. Leaf that has been the biggest reason for the team’s success.
Only a freshman, Leaf has become one of the most talked about big men in the country. His play has garnered him a ton of NBA attention and might make him a first-round selection in the upcoming NBA Draft.
Being a Bruin, Leaf has been compared to UCLA alumni, Kevin Love, and it’s for good reason. Leaf plays a very similar game to that of Love. Both have a knack for the three-pointers, with Leaf shooting a remarkable .513, as compared to Love’s .354. Interestingly enough, Leaf shoots the three 2.1 times per game, the same amount as Love during his tenure at UCLA.
Aside from three-point shooting, the two also share outstanding rebounding totals. Love would average 10.6 boards per game at UCLA, while Leaf currently averages 8.9. While the slight advantage goes to Love in both rebounding and points, Leaf is surely the best big man UCLA has had since Love’s 2007-08 season.
So Why is T.J. Leaf such a can’t miss prospect in the NBA Draft?
Look at the landscape of the NBA right now. Teams are relying heavily on the stretch four, it holds especially true with Love’s role in Cleveland. Leaf has shown in college that he can be that legitimate stretch big for any NBA team. What’s best is that he’s still only a freshman, meaning NBA coaches can groom him into the type of player that someone such as Love currently is.
Currently, most mock drafts have Leaf sitting in the late lottery or just outside of it. However, if any scouts ask Kentucky coach John Calipari about Leaf, he’ll give you a ringing endorsement of the 6’10 freshman and his potential to play at the next level.
“I mean, what Leaf did, he basically dominated the game,” Calipari said to Sporting News after UCLA beat Kentucky earlier this season. “We had no one unless I was going to go big lineup, which we haven’t done a whole lot, which shows me maybe we have to be prepared for that. But he killed us.”
It’s that type of praise Leaf has received from many of the opposing coaches he’s faced this season. With comparisons to Kevin Love and an NBA-ready game, T.J. Leaf might be one of the best prospects in college basketball. And while he’s committed to winning a National Championship for the Bruins this season, he probably won’t remain a Bruin for much longer.
Follow Daniel James Gentile on twitter @dgentleman9288