Rookies often earn minutes under Scott Skiles. If you see someone write otherwise, hear someone say otherwise or develop telepathy and are around someone who is thinking otherwise, you have my permission to correct them. Brandon Jennings, Luc Mbah a Moute, Ben Gordon, Chris Duhon, Kirk Hinrich, there are plenty of examples of Skiles giving rotation minutes to rookies. Skiles generally seems to have one rule when it comes to distributing his minutes: If you can help him win a game, he’ll play you.
So earning some minutes early in the season was already something of a victory for Jon Leuer. He has a coach that only gives minutes to guys who are going to help his team win and judging from his minute distribution, so apparently Skiles thinks Jon Leuer is going to help the Bucks win games. That’s quite a leap for Leuer. Two years ago he was hardly a hot prospect.
He had a nice shot, he could grab a few boards here and there and he was obviously a smart player. But he was another slow footed big guy from Wisconsin. What did that ever get Mark Vershaw, Mike Wilkinson and Brian Butch? Just getting on an NBA roster looked like it would be an incredible success for Leuer.
But he blew past that Tuesday night. A strong pre-season should have put us on notice, but the shortened camp, absence of summer league and the pre-season of just two games may have been the cause of the overlook on Leuer. Now he’s dropping 14 points and seven rebounds in the Milwaukee Bucks home opener and earning praise from one of the NBA’s most notoriously straight shooting coaches.
“Jon was great,” Skiles said after Tuesday’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. “He’s been good since we hit camp. I probably should have played him more last night, he’s earned his minutes out there.”
But beyond the generic compliments, Leuer’s finish near the end was what helped seal things for a Bucks team that didn’t want to see back-to-back double digit leads blown coming out of the gate. Brandon Jennings gathered a wild pass from Ersan Ilyasova at the top of the key on a broken play and drove to the hoop. Jennings has forced up floater, stopped and pop and done everything in between in these situations over the past two seasons, so the Bradley Center was prepared for anything.
Leuer’s man stepped up to stop a launching Jennings, who displayed the vision we whisper about sometimes with a pass to Leuer holding his hands up for a target at the rim. Leuer went up, absorbed contact and saw his dunk turn into a layup as it fell through the net off the rim with .8 left on the shot clock. Jennings made it happen, Leuer made sure.
It was the perfect way to cap a strong home opener for Leuer. He showed off early, scoring four quick points on a mid range jumper and a strong finish inside while adding in an assist on a pretty pass from at the rim. And the crowd cheered wildly for every second of it, in the Bradley Center, on Twitter and around television sets across the state I’m sure.
“That’s the Badger love I guess, a little bit,” said a smiling Leuer of the audible cheers for him throughout the arena Tuesday. “They were great fans for me my four years at Wisconsin and I’m glad I get to keep playing for them.”
More importantly, a suddenly capable Leuer adds another body to a Milwaukee front court that’s still in flux. The Bucks never did acquire that backup center, and without Drew Gooden, it was a mix of Larry Sanders, Leuer and Jon Brockman manning the pivot behind Bogut on Tuesday.
If Leuer proves to have the necessary physical attributes to handle minutes in the league, and we now have a couple games of data that suggest strongly that he does, he may be able to soak up some of those crucial backup center minutes behind Bogut. Sanders has the tools and Brockman has the ruggedness, but both lack the polish and scoring ability Leuer offers.
Perhaps I’m jumping the gun, but the question about Leuer was never whether he could play, it was physically can he be an NBA player. It looks like that will be the easy part for him. With that out of the way, it’s easy to let the mind wander about another possible second round steal for the Milwaukee Bucks.