COMMENTARY | A McDonald's All-American and consensus top 15 recruit out of high school, C.J. Leslie made an immediate impact at N.C. State, leading the team in rebounding at 7.2 boards per game and earning ACC All-Freshman honors after choosing the Wolfpack over Kentucky.
As a sophomore, Leslie led his team in scoring at 14.7 points per game while shooting over 52 percent from the field; he averaged 7.3 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. N.C. State made the Sweet 16 and much of its success was a result of Leslie's ability.
At 6 feet 9 inches and 200 pounds, Leslie is a raw yet explosive athlete with the ability to play above the rim and affect the game defensively with his length. While his physical skills have intrigued scouts for years, Leslie didn't take the step forward as a junior that most expected and it showed in his team's performance, as the Wolfpack lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Temple.
Regardless of any perceived struggles in his final year at N.C. State, Leslie was still in the discussion to be not only a first-round pick but also a top 20 pick in the eyes of some NBA teams. Nobody expected his stock to fall so far that he'd find himself undrafted but when no team selected him in June, that's exactly where Leslie ended up.
The Knicks were high on Leslie but drafted Tim Hardaway Jr. with their only pick of the night. Without a second-rounder, they couldn't have thought they would get Leslie, too, but when the opportunity arose, the Knicks jumped on him as an undrafted free agent. For a player whose work ethic has come under scrutiny, a slice of humble pie and a chip on his shoulder may be a blessing in disguise.
Leslie had a decent showing in the Las Vegas Summer League but struggled with his shot and turnovers over the Knicks' five games. He didn't block a shot but did show off his ability as a slasher with a nice drive-and-dunk against the Wizards. Leslie is a great second leaper and grabbed 6 offensive rebounds in Vegas, something that wasn't lost on the Knicks, who could use help on the glass on both ends of the court next season.
With Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace ahead of him on the roster, it's unlikely that Leslie will see time at the start of the season. Without much of a three-point shot, he may have trouble fitting into any lineups that include Anthony but if there's one thing the Knicks lack besides rebounding, it's athleticism and energy, all things Leslie can bring to the table.
With Stoudemire likely to be limited all season and Bargnani a perennial injury risk, it wouldn't be surprising to see Leslie move up to third or fourth on the depth chart at forward sometime this season. That would line him up to see meaningful minutes in the Knicks' rotation and at the very least, he can bring some youthful energy and rebounding to the New York bench.
If everything breaks right (or wrong, depending on how you look at it), Leslie could go from unwanted on draft night to rotational depth on a playoff team in less than a year. The talent is there for Leslie, now it's just of matter of him seizing whatever opportunities he may get in his rookie season.
Chris Tripodi lives in New York and has been a Knicks follower since the days of Patrick Ewing and John Starks in the early 1990s. He has written for numerous online sources, namely Draft Insider, Optimum Scouting and Jets 101.
Follow him on Twitter @christripodi.
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