BY THE NUMBERS: Averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds in 25.9 minutes per game, setting new career highs in scoring and playing time. Shot right at his career norm overall (.480), but one year after shooting .382 from the 3-point arc Leuer shot just .293 from distance in his first season with the Pistons. Hit 86.7 percent of his free throws.
SEASON IN REVIEW: Leuer, like at least a few of his teammates, saw his numbers tail off after the All-Star break. His pre-break numbers were 11.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 27 minutes a game and shot .325 from the 3-point line. After the break, those numbers declined to 8.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.0 assist in 23.5 minutes and his 3-point shooting plummeted to .205. A January injury in which Leuer took a knee to the thigh muscle, just above his knee, caused fluid to drain into his knee and caused him to miss five games. After averaging 11.4 points and 6.3 rebounds on 50.8 overall shooting before the injury, Leuer’s play tailed off after his return.
EXPANDED ROLE: Was it the knee/thigh injury that triggered Leuer’s tailspin or was it something else? Stan Van Gundy believes Leuer felt the effects of playing consistent and heavy minutes for the first time in his six-year NBA career. By the All-Star break, Leuer had already exceeded his previous career high in minutes played and wound up exceeding his previous best (1,255 in 2015-16 with Phoenix) by nearly 700 minutes. Leuer was inserted into the starting lineup in December, prompted by Van Gundy’s desire to put a bigger and more sound defensive unit on the floor to start games, and stayed there until March, winding up drawing 34 starts.
FRONTCOURT VERSATILITY: The Pistons targeted Leuer as their first priority at power forward – after they made a run at perhaps the best big man on the free-agent market, Al Horford – after having the need for a bigger defender made clear to them when Kevin Love put up big numbers in their first-round 2016 playoff series. With Aron Baynes likely to opt out of his contract and become a free agent – and someone the Pistons won’t have the wherewithal to sign under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement – Leuer also could be part of the solution behind Andre Drummond at center next season. Boban Marjanovic’s strong finish to the season carves out a likely role for him, but there will be matchups against the NBA’s increasing number of range-shooting backup big men where Leuer is the better option.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Leuer has three years remaining on the reported $41 million free-agent contract he signed with the Pistons in July 2016. Next season will be big for Leuer to test Van Gundy’s theory that this was a season of adjustment for him as he became a rotation regular – and even a starter for nearly half a season – for the first time and absorbed a much heavier workload. For Leuer to thrive in whatever role he earns next season – a continuation of his 2016-17 role as a primary power forward or a hybrid role where he spends considerable time as the second unit center, as well – it will be important for him to bring his 3-point accuracy closer to his Phoenix levels.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “We just thought he was a guy that if he got minutes every night could be really, really productive and I still think there’s a lot there that hasn’t been tapped yet. We’re trying to get him to be more aggressive offensively. I think there’s even more there than what we’ve seen. I think he can go beyond what he’s doing now.” Stan Van Gundy in December with Leuer off to a strong start.