The curious case of C.J. Leslie
Posted February 25, 2013
Updated February 26, 2013
C.J. Leslie was the preseason pick for ACC player of the year. He may not make first team all-conference.
His team was the preseason pick to win the ACC. They may not even make the top four.
Preseason AP voters had NC State sixth in the nation. They didn't get one single vote in this week's poll.
Leslie is a microcosm of the Wolfpack's season. Sometimes both the team and the player are good. Sometimes they leave you scratching your head. The bottom line is Leslie and the Wolfpack are too talented to be in the position they are.
Looking at last year's stats compared to this year, Leslie averages .7 more points, .3 more rebounds, .2 more assists, fewer blocked shots, fewer steals and more turnovers. That's not a great margin of improvement. But moving past the statistical comparison, the most puzzling thing about Leslie is those times when his effort doesn't meet the moment.
He was benched in the game at North Carolina, and his teammates said he apologized at halftime of that game. His coach has gone out of his way not to publicly chastise the guy he calls Calvin. But after the North Carolina game, Mark Gottfried told the world, "He's (CJ) a great player and great players got to step up and play, period. I love him as much as anybody but when you're a good player, then you have to play better."
When referencing rebounding Gottfried said, "Are we expecting Richard (Howell) to get 30 rebounds? I mean, holy mackerel, somebody else has to rebound the ball. Calvin has to step up, period."
That's as direct as the second-year coach can be. Will it work?
I spoke with someone who has known Leslie since he was in the 9th grade and he told me Leslie hasn't heard too much criticism from coaches along his basketball journey. They were afraid if they got too strict with Leslie, he would leave their program and go somewhere else. In some cases, the person told me, Leslie would withdraw from challenging situations.
So how in the heck is he going to thrive in the NBA environment?
I spoke with an NBA scout about Leslie, and he said the junior has improved greatly since his freshman season. He spoke glowingly about C.J.'s incredible first step and ability to get to the rim.
"Did you see him against Florida State?" the scout asked me.
I countered with, "Have you seen those moments when he looks incredibly disinterested?"
"I can't figure that out," the scout responded.
If Leslie turns pro after this season, and I have no reason to believe he will return to NC State, he will be drafted in the first round. A team may be enamored enough by his athleticism to draft him in the lottery.
That organization will know about his talents through scouting. NBA teams have also seen those times of detachment when Leslie, a player of the year candidate, plays with the energy and passion of a turtle.
There is another side of C.J. that NBA teams may not know about. In the preseason, he often communicated with a young girl from Granville county who was battling ill effects of a brain tumor. In the midst of his greatest celebration after beating Duke, CJ saw that NC State student Will Privette had fallen out of his wheelchair. Leslie lifted him to safety and they continued to celebrate together.
All of the elements, from the top of this page to the bottom, go into the curious case of C.J. Leslie.