North Carolina State: Tough Decisions Ahead For C.J. Leslie

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for C.J. Leslie to show the nation what he’s made of or the North Carolina State Wolfpack need to nail him to the bench permanently.

Remember when the season first began and this was going to be the year the Wolfpack finally captured the ACC from state rivals the Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels? Boy that was a fun three days, wasn’t it?

The problem is the coaches, scouts and media members that delivered those predictions weren’t necessary talking out of the side of their behinds. There were legitimate reasons to believe this N.C. State team had all the talent necessary to capture the conference title.

One of the major reasons was that this was going be the year Leslie finally matured and became the dominating force a lot of people know he has the talent to be. Unfortunately, the junior has routinely disappointed fans by making boneheaded decisions, barking at officials and has flat out left many wondering “what on earth was he thinking?”

To date, what is the moment that stands out the most for Leslie this season?

If you guessed picking up a person in a wheelchair from getting crushed by hundreds of celebrating fans, then you are correct. That isn’t a knock on the incident, it was a beautiful moment and the type of situation that should put a smile on everybody’s face. However, given the massive talent that hides in the 6-foot-9 forward’s body, it shouldn’t be what he’s most famous for at this stage of the season.

On his best day, Leslie can look like a young Kevin Garnett and that is not an overstatement. He is without a doubt that talented. However, on his worst day, and most Wolfpack fans know this, he just looks like an uninterested moron, more focused on whining to the officials than he is competing hard and living up to his potential. That isn’t an overstatement either.

In his past eight contests, Leslie has recorded 37 turnovers. Big men will always be more prone to turnovers since they normally can’t dribble and fast guards are always looking for an opportunity to catch them off-guard for a quick steal. However, 37 turnovers are downright pathetic and unacceptable from a so-called elite player. By comparison, Mason Plumlee has 26 turnovers in his last eight games.

Does anybody think Leslie should have 11 more turnovers than Plumlee, considering they entered the year as two of the biggest potential conference player of the year candidates? Most likely not, but it certainly says a lot about the two, doesn’t it? On one hand, there’s Duke’s number one offensive option helping his team to success and on the other hand, there’s N.C. State’s number one option being mostly responsible for his team’s lack of success.

In the first half of the Wolfpack’s recent loss to the Tar Heels, Leslie had committed six turnovers while his teammate Richard Howell was displaying the definition of heart and hustle. By half-time Howell had out-rebounded the entire North Carolina roster with 14 rebounds compared to the Tar Heels’ team total of 12.

By comparison, Howell’s offensive game is maybe a quarter of what Leslie’s scoring ability can be. However, what makes Howell the better player is he actually plays. From whistle to whistle, nobody works harder than Howell on the court and if N.C. State could magically take his heart and put it in Leslie’s body, no team could stop the Wolfpack.

Unfortunately, Leslie’s lack of desire and determination are what is defining his season and if he doesn’t turn things around to finish the year, he’ll be remembered as one of the most frustrating “what ifs” in college basketball history.

At the same time, if he doesn’t turn it around, then coach Mark Gottfried will have to make the hardest coaching decision of his career and bench his most talented player. It’s not like the Wolfpack doesn’t have a quality option behind him. They have freshman T.J. Warren. Warren is certainly a capable scoring, but he isn’t nearly as effective as a focused and hungry Leslie.

However, as the calendar begins to turn to March, the most important thing for any school begins: winning basketball games. At this point, there’s little doubt the best five players to give N.C. State a chance of winning include Howell, Warren, Lorenzo Brown, Rodney Purvis and Scott Wood.

Notice the lack of a certain junior’s name? At the start of the year, nobody would have dreamed up this nightmare for the Wolfpack.

Michael covers ACC and Big East basketball along with the NBA and NHL for Rant Sports, you can follow him on Twitter @MichaelxRoberts

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