Throughout his college career, C.J. Leslie was both a source of excitement and disappointment for NC State Wolfpack fans. He’s a player who has shown incredible promise and ridiculous athleticism, measuring in at 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a 40-inch vertical jump. However, he never quite lived up to his enormous potential and, to the surprise of many, fell out of the draft entirely before being signed as a rookie free agent by the New York Knicks.
As an undrafted player with a partially-guaranteed contract, Leslie is a very low-risk signing for New York. If he improves, he could provide some much-needed depth and athleticism on the wing for the Knicks. Mike Woodson has shown that he values versatility, and Leslie’s size and athleticism should give him the ability to guard multiple positions. While he’s not particularly good at boxing out and he’s slight of frame, he was a strong rebounder in college, grabbing 7.3 boards a night for his career and he did a solid job protecting the glass on the Knicks Summer League squad.
Leslie’s speed and explosiveness make him a devastating force on fast breaks. Not only can he soar over defenders for dunks, but he also has good body control in the air and the ability to convert difficult layup attempts. He’s at his best when he’s aggressively attacking the basket, but he can sometimes be a little out of control. During Summer League play, he got himself in trouble a few times by attempting a shot out of a spin move into traffic or lofting up an awkward runner when he couldn’t make it all the way to the rim. He should find himself in those situations less often on the Knicks, though, as he won’t often have to create his own offense. Rather than attacking off a series of dribble moves, he should be able to operate as a cutter and slasher, exploiting holes in the opponents’ help defense to get easy buckets. His explosive leaping ability is also extremely useful on the offensive glass, where, like Carmelo Anthony, he is very good at collecting his own misses and going up for put backs.
Leslie’s primary weakness on offense is his jump shot, and he’ll need to put in a lot of time with Knicks shooting coach Dave Hopla during the offseason. He shot an atrocious 27 percent from the shorter college three-point line during his career at NC State and missed every three he attempted as a member of the Knicks Summer League team. His mechanics look different on every attempt, a problem he’ll need to fix to keep opponents from playing off him and clogging the paint on defense. He’ll also need to drastically improve his free throw shooting as he shot just 58.9 percent from the charity stripe at NC State.
Leslie is a serviceable ball handler, but as his Summer League performance showed, he’s not quite equipped for a “point forward” sort of role. He’s more than capable of attacking an off-balance defender and getting to the rim, though.
Defensively, he hasn’t consistently shown the effort and desire necessary to excel in the past, but he did show improved attention to detail in the Summer League. He’s still extremely raw on defense, but he has the makings of a decent one-on-one defender already and he certainly has the athleticism to be a force on that end. He’ll likely need to add strength to guard some small forwards and power forwards, but his length and agility should allow him to guard most perimeter players. Working with Mike Woodson should help him develop on that end.
While the Knicks aren’t likely to have a lot of playing time available for Leslie, his skills and potential should allow him to see the court on a regular basis. He could be a solid contributor for ten or so minutes per game while veteran wing players like Metta World Peace and Carmelo Anthony provide him with mentoring.