N.C. State junior C.J. Leslie is no stranger to NBA scouts, as he has been on the map for the past two years. However, it would appear that staying in school has hurt Leslie's stock and the forward finds himself almost universally rated as a second-round prospect in a draft class that is believed to be the weakest in years. Leslie isn't interested in trying to boost his stock with one more year in school as he announced earlier this month that he won't be returning to the Wolfpack.
So why are teams down on the 6'8" (or 6'9", depending on who you ask) forward? His physical talent and all-around athleticism aren't in question, but his upside and overall motivation to get better are. Passing up the opportunity to jump into the 2012 draft was supposed to give Leslie the opening to vault himself into the top 20 of this year's class, but his junior year fell flat in the eyes of most observers. Leslie's numbers went up a tick but a deeper look at his stat sheet shows that his production per 40 minutes have dipped somewhat. His sophomore year saw him average 19.8 PPG, 10.1 RPG, and 2.2 BPG per 40 minutes. This past year, however, he averaged 17.8 PPG, 9.1 RPG, and 1.5 BPG. That's not an alarming drop, but it's definitely not the step up that scouts were hoping to see.
On offense, his athletic ability is what sets him apart from many small forwards in his class. He has shown that he can beat just about any defender off of the dribble at the college level and his quick first step should serve him well in the pros. However, unlike most players at the three, he doesn't have a consistent outside jumper. His lack of a strong jump shot was always one of the big strikes against him and with three years to get it straight, he still hasn't been able to show that he can keep defenders honest. He also has to improve his ball-handling if he's truly going to take advantage of his ability to break towards the basket.
Leslie never showed himself to be a lockdown defender at N.C. State, but his athleticism leaves some to believe that he can become a disruptive player in the NBA. Armed with quickness and a wingspan of 7'2", it's not hard to see Leslie being able to clog up passing lanes and kickstart the offense in transition. Of course, he'll have to commit mentally to becoming a tougher defender if he wants to give opponents trouble and out-muscle them when necessary.
Some have wondered why Leslie would jump into the draft when his stock is at its low point, but it's not such a strange decision when you consider how strong the 2014 draft is expected to be. Leslie may not be able to work his way into the first 30 picks, but he could improve his draft stock enough to come off of the board early in the second round. As it stands, Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress has the forward going 34th overall (just ahead of teammate Lorenzo Brown) while Chad Ford has him rated 68th in this class, which leaves him as a fringe second round pick or potentially undrafted. In a group of players where athleticism is hard to find, I expect to see him come off the board in the early-to-mid portion of the second round.