Jon Leuer's back in town, baby! Leuer bowed out of his contract with the German Bundesliga's Fraport Skyliners in Frankfurt and will be in Milwaukee for the start of training camp today.
It was always Leuer's intention to return to the NBA following a resolution to the lockout, and his agent Mark Bartelstein made sure to include such a provision in his contract. Bartelstein also included an opt-out clause in the contract of E'Twaun Moore, a second-round pick of the Boston Celtics who signed in Italy. Those clauses were a bit of an oddity, with many European clubs insisting that NBA players without existing contracts commit to a full season.
As we mentioned a few days ago, Leuer's return doesn't guarantee he will be signed to the Bucks for this season. In fact, his choice to leave the Skyliners complicates matters a bit. If Leuer isn't playing pro ball outside the NBA, the Bucks are required to extend him a "required tender" if they want to retain his draft rights. They do not need to extend a guaranteed contract offer. If he is cut after training camp, however, he will be a free agent and will be able to sign with any team.
In the four months Jon spent in Germany, he appeared in 13 games--ten as part of the German Bundesliga season, and three games of EuroCup competition. The bad news first: the Fraport Skyliners aren't a very competitive team, so Leuer and his teammates were frequently overmatched. Getting your butt whipped over and over again is a good way to get better at online video games--I'm not sure it's the best way to get better at basketball. The good news? Playing time was a non-issue. Leuer was basically the featured player in Frankfurt, with the highest MPG of any player on the roster. What did he do with those minutes? That's the real question.
Leuer's 31.6 MPG in Bundesliga play was highest on the team, and he finishes his current stint as the club's leading rebounder. Those advanced rebounding stats, particularly on the defensive end, paint Leuer in a pretty favorable light. For reference:
NBA Power Forward Averages
Now, Leuer's numbers obviously come with a huge caveat: most NBA forwards would destroy the boards in the Bundesliga. But I'm willing to accept them as decent evidence that he's a better rebounder than many give him credit for. Hopefully that's not just the confirmation bias talking.
In either case, there are a few obvious takeaways. Unsurprisingly, his rebounding is much better on the defensive end. In general, we can expect Leuer's defensive game to be far ahead of its offensive counterpart when he first hits the court. His four years at Wisconsin pounded defensive fundamentals and strategy into his head harder than a railroad spike in that new AMC show that 57 people watch. Of course, he's not much of a shot blocker either. If you think back to to Leuer's combine stats (we discussed them in a marathon podcast a while back), Jon graded out with better "athleticism" than expected, but he blocked fewer than one shot per game in his senior season.
One possible explanation again draws on those defensive fundamentals. Wisconsin big men excelled at staying grounded but extending their arms, forcing opponents to shoot over them while avoiding fouls. It's tough to block shots when you're not leaping into the air, but it's the reason the Badgers typically give up so few free-throw attempts. Conventional wisdom says that power forwards who don't block shots must not be very good defenders, but the world is just so unconventional, so who knows?
Offensively, Leuer started slow, shooting about 40% in his first five games. Over the next eight, though, he averaged just under 15 points on 49% shooting overall. He turned in 20 and 27 point outings and showed a decent knack for drawing fouls and sinking his free-throws.
Naturally what jumps out is Leuer's three-point shooting--at only 28%, it's tough to feel really confident that he'll be able to function as an effective stretch-4 in the NBA anytime soon. In fairness, Jon kept his attempts down for the most part, finishing many nights 0-1 from behind the arc. He seemed determined to focus on his offense down low, and proved surprisingly effective. Leuer shot just under 50% on two-point shots, admittedly against far weaker competition than what he'll see in the NBA. Still, Milwaukee probably didn't select Leuer in the second-round because of his promising post-game. Leuer will have to adapt to the NBA 3-pointer and convert those shots with at least average efficiency to maximize his worth.
There's no denying how much I've rallied for Team Leuer. There's also no reasonable way to deny the odds against him. Of course, Milwaukee has found gems in the second round before, and the Bucks' recent moves make it entirely possible that Leuer will have a spot on the roster when the season opens. It's also possible that the best move for both Leuer and the Milwaukee Bucks would've been to keep Leuer overseas for the year on a team where playing time was generously stacked at his feet. Only time will tell.