April 6, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Jon Leuer before the game against the Charlotte Bobcats at the Bradley Center. The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Charlotte Bobcats 95-90. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-US PRESSWIRE
Knowing the subject of the article is enough to give away the answer of the following trivia question, but it is interesting nonetheless. Of the new Cleveland Cavaliers brought in over the off-season, who had the highest Player Efficiency Rating last season? It was Jon Leuer! While his PER was only a slightly above average 15.31, and doesn't measure defensive shortcomings as much as you would like, isn't the fact that the Cavaliers picked up a 23 year old with an above average PER for literally nothing worth a bit of excitement? Lets dive a little deeper.The first caveat that must be added to Mr. Leuer's impressive PER is the fact that he only played 12 minutes a game, and appeared in only 46 games. His minutes got yanked around in ways that don't appear to make any sense. The last 5 games of the year provide a microcosm of what most of his year was. He played in the three of the five games, and played 6, 21, and 30 minutes in the games he did play. The game he got 30 minutes in is pretty interesting. In a blowout loss to Boston, he scored 15 points on 7-11 shooting, and pulled down 8 rebounds. He attempted one three-pointer, and made it.
The second caveat is the defense. He isn't exceptionally quick, or strong which hurts his ability to guard 4's and 5's. He has all the length he could need, measuring almost 7 feet tall in shoes. He actually held opponents he guarded to a 14.4 PER, which is far from terrible. But right now he can get bullied a bit. Still, no one is asking him to be an all-world defender. If he spends time on the court with Anderson Varejao or Tristan Thompson, he will almost never be asked to check someone that is truly elite. Even without either of those players on the court, he will be running with the second unit, and can avoid some of the more difficult match-ups. A real problem that he has is defensive rebounding, and this may be a reflection of his unwillingness/inability to get physical inside. It is worth noting that defensive rebounding isn't exactly Tristan Thompson's greatest strength either, and the two of them on the court together might prove frustrating.
But Leuer could have the ability to bring some things to the Cavaliers that they definitely need. Thompson and Tyler Zeller make up two of four bigs that Cleveland will need moving forward. Anderson Varejao is in some parallel land. Neither of those three players have the ability to be a stretch 4 that can draw opposing defenders out of the lane for Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. Jon Leuer does. He is an excellent shooter. He doesn't quite have three-point range yet, but there isn't much reason to believe he can't get it. His PER when he played Power Forward, and not Center, was actually 17.9. Not too shabby for a rookie. He is smart, which helps him be efficient; there is no reason to assume he would go the Antawn Jamison route and start jacking up shots that simply don't make sense.
The Cavaliers will probably continue to look for an upgrade at the Center position. Whether or not this means Varejao leaves in a trade remains to be seen. But whether it has been Samardo Samuels, Luke Harangody, Semih Erden, or Ryan Hollins, the team has also failed to find a fourth big. A lot of us aren't quite ready to give up on Samuels, but its important to remember that this is a guy that missed a game last season because he didn't have his passport ready. If Slammin' Samardo moves on, lets not shed a tear. Leuer has shown more in just one year as a rookie than Samardo has in two uneven years. I can't imagine I will ever want to see Leuer average more than 22 minutes a game for the Cavs. Fortunately, the Cavs shouldn't ever have to ask him for more than that.
Welcome to Cleveland, Jon. We are pulling for you.