Illinois basketball has the twelfth-best winning percentage all-time and the fourteenth-most wins of any NCAA program. And yet, it isn't often that Illini fans have alums who made it to the NBA to boast about. One of the few former Illini who is currently in the Association, however, is Meyers Leonard. Leonard spent two years in Champaign and averaged 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game his sophomore year before declaring for the 2012 NBA draft. He was picked eleventh overall by the Portland Trailblazers.
Leonard didn't see much playing time at all during his rookie season, but his minutes per game slowly began to increase, and he received his first career start in November of 2012 against the Suns. Prior to this past season beginning, the Blazers lost big man LaMarcus Aldridge to the Spurs. This opened the door for Meyers to see a big rise in playing time, and he delivered.
The former Illini center appeared in 61 games this past season, including ten starts, and averaged 8 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists per contest. Perhaps the most underrated part of his game was his three-point shooting prowess; he connected on 38 percent of his shots from beyond the arc in 2015, which was good for fourth-best on the team. While some Illinois fans thought that Leonard could bloom into an NBA talent, I don't think many saw the 2015 that Meyers put together coming.
Which is what made the news that broke in late March all the more unfortunate. Portland announced that Leonard would be sidelined for the remainder of the season with a dislocated left shoulder that he had suffered a few weeks earlier. It was a big blow to both the Blazers' rotation and Leonard's future. It makes this upcoming summer a murky one for Meyers, who not only will still be rehabbing and recovering, but may also have to field offers from other NBA teams. His contract with Portland expires this offseason and he is set to become a free agent in June. The Blazers could extend a qualifying offer to him, but even then he would still be a restricted free agent.
Leonard will most likely look to re-sign with Portland, but if he chooses to explore other options and can demonstrate that he has fully recovered from his shoulder injury, he may get some intriguing offers. In an era where Illinois alums playing in the NBA are few and far between, Meyers Leonard has been a bright spot and is making the Illini faithful proud.