AUBURN HILLS – Jon Leuer made a few changes this summer. He focused more than ever on 3-point shooting. He decided to continue vigorous weight lifting through the season to counter last year’s decline in productivity after the All-Star break. And he got married.
To someone who caught his eye long before he dreamed of a career in the NBA.
“She was kind of my grade school crush,” Leuer grinned after a long workout, capped by a high-tempo 3-point shooting drill, at the Pistons practice facility.
But they never dated until well after Leuer had left his Minnesota home, spent four years at Wisconsin and entered the NBA via the 2011 draft. Three years ago, at the behest of friends, he reached out via social media to see what was happening in her life.
Keegan Billick, daughter of former Vikings offensive coordinator and Ravens head coach Brian Billick, had gone to work for sports apparel and equipment giant Under Armour in Baltimore and they arranged for a date while both were in Philadelphia and “have been going strong ever since,” Leuer said. They got married outside Washington, D.C., in July with Stan Van Gundy and several teammates present, honeymooned at Lake Louise in Alberta and then settled into their home near Minneapolis.
The rest of Leuer’s summer was focused on making sure the 2017-18 season more closely resembles what came before the February All-Star break in his first season with the Pistons. Leuer averaged 11.2 points and 5.7 rebounds in 51 games before the break on 51 percent overall and 33 percent 3-point shooting compared to 8.2 points and 4.7 rebounds on 41 percent overall and 20 percent 3-point shooting.
Stan Van Gundy pointed to extended minutes – by the All-Star break, Leuer had already exceeded his previous career high (1,255) by more than 100 minutes – and admitted it appeared Leuer was dealing with waning confidence.
“When you’re in it, you always try to keep the same mental approach. Once you get out of the season, reflecting back on it, my numbers dropped off after the All-Star break,” Leuer said. “So that’s something I’ve definitely been conscious of this off-season and how can I correct that? How can I finish stronger?”
Through conversations with Van Gundy and Pistons strength coach Jordan Sabourin, Leuer decided not to back off on weight lifting during the season as he’d previously done.
“I lift really hard in the off-season and preseason and that keeps my weight up and keeps me stronger. Jordan was saying there’s even a testosterone boost when you lift more, so I think that’s something toward the end of the season I’ll be conscious of to hopefully maintain a high level of play.”
Van Gundy gave Leuer another bit of fair warning for the season ahead: be prepared to play more at center than last season when Aron Baynes was Andre Drummond’s everyday backup. It might work out that Leuer and Boban Marjanovic split the backup center minutes depending some on matchups and some on how Van Gundy perceives unit fit and need.
“He’s mentioned that to me. I’ve talked with some of the assistant coaches about that, as well,” Leuer said. “It’s definitely something I’m comfortable with. I feel like a lot of times if I can get a five man on me, that definitely plays to my advantage. The league is definitely going smaller, too.”
Leuer hopes to increase his advantage by representing more of a 3-point threat.
“It’s something that I work on every summer, but this summer I definitely wanted to shoot it better than I did last year,” he said after hitting 14 of 15 late in a drill where Leuer runs into 3-point shots on the wing from the half-court line. “I’ve tweaked a couple of things and I feel like it’s helped a lot so far.”
Van Gundy said he views Leuer as a starter, but he’ll have plenty of choices at power forward this season among Tobias Harris – equally capable of playing either forward spot – Anthony Tolliver and Henry Ellenson in addition to Leuer. Leuer, who’s spent most of his career coming off the bench, is equally comfortable starting or not.
“The way I look at it is once you’re out there between the lines, it really doesn’t matter. You have to come ready to play and give everything you have to contribute to the team whether you’re playing five minutes or 35 minutes and starting. In this league, it’s all about the minutes you earn, the opportunity you get, to take advantage and do whatever you can to help the team. Whether I’m coming off the bench or starting really isn’t a big deal to me.”
If he knocks down 3-point shots at a high rate and maintains his productivity deep into the season, Leuer will get all the minutes he can handle – maybe more in his second season with the Pistons than he did the first time around.