It seems that most State fans are in agreement that this season’s basketball team (while they had a good season and expectations were perhaps a bit too high) underachieved. The other constant seems to be a lot of criticism for C.J. Leslie.
After last year’s Sweet Sixteen run, there were signs of Leslie’s maturation. There was a SI story that SFN wrote about in August that featured AD Debbie Yow’s involvement with Leslie. This was also evident when the two had a nice little moment after the Georgetown win (mentioned in this SFN entry).
Then there was the win over #1 Duke at home where Leslie scored 25 points and had a big assist after the game, rescuing wheelchair bound student Will Privette during the court storming and the pair were featured on The Today Show where he represented himself, the team and the university well.
Seems like things were going pretty well for C.J. Leslie at that point after beating the Dookies. Sure, he still had his moments here and there. But there were signs of his off-season maturation, he had scored in double figures in every game except the Oklahoma State debacle, had only fouled out of one game (OK State again), dropped 25 on the #1 team in the country and had the awareness to help out a fellow student in a sea of court stormers.
So what went wrong?
Here’s my opinion of when things changed – when Lorenzo Brown turned his ankle at UVA. With our point guard out of the lineup, I think Leslie tried way too hard to put the team on his back and completely screwed up his game. While he may not have gone about it in quite the right way, I think it’s still admirable that the guy tried to step up.
In the 3 games Brown was out of the lineup, Leslie averaged 18 points and 10.7 rebounds while shooting 57%. But, going back to my theory of trying too hard, he also averaged 4.3 turnovers per game. This is also the point in the season when it seemed like Leslie started to force the ball in the paint against double teams, resulting in turnovers and travels from switching pivot feet more than Ron Kelley. And because he was forcing the action, he wasn’t getting the benefit of the doubt from ACC officials. And we all know that ACC officials wouldn’t have any preconceived opinions on player tendencies to begin with.
So now Leslie is dealing with the team losing some games, bad habits creeping into his game and no love from the officials. And as the season went on you saw Leslie getting more and more frustrated with the officiating (as did plenty of State fans). When he starting forcing the action Leslie probably lost what little benefit of the doubt he had from ACC officials. But when legitimate fouls weren’t being called, Leslie was obviously frustrated and rightfully so.
I’ve read countless times where people complain that Leslie isn’t coachable. But it seemed to me like down the stretch, a lot of those bad habits in his game were scaled back. After a 6 turnover game in Chapel Hill (after which Coach Gottfried called him out in public), one of multiple games with 4 to 7 turnovers a game, Leslie never had more than 3 turnovers in the last 8 games of the season. He started looking for his jump shot more and going straight up with the ball more rather than picking up his dribble, switching pivot feet and forcing the ball up inside against multiple defenders. It even seemed like he cut down on the 1 or 2 obvious goaltends he would commit every game.
And even though the kid messed his game up trying too hard and then made an effort to fix some his problems, I’ve read nothing but criticism. And to be fair, he’s not free of blame on how the season ended. He could have been a little more composed with the officiating, played better defense and hit more free throws.
But I’m not sure C.J. Leslie deserves the level of criticism he’s been getting. SFN linked to a N&O story on Leslie trying to roll with the criticism. I haven’t ventured on the Pack Pride monkey boards much after the Temple game so I can only imagine what has been said there, but here on SFN (where I like to think folks have a little more common sense) I’ve read comments that if Coach Gottfried goes to UCLA he should take Leslie with him, comments that neither Leslie or Brown should be welcome back on next year’s team and plenty of people that just want him to leave.
While he absolutely has his flaws and plenty of room for improvement, C.J. Leslie is the most physically gifted NC State player in the past 20 years, an All-ACC performer putting up 15 and 7 and everybody wants to throw him out on his ear. I find that kinda sad.
Personally I want him to stay. I can’t imagine his NBA draft status has risen after this season so I’m not sure he’s ready for the pros. And if you’re like me, you’ve loved seeing Richard Howell blossom in his senior season, getting the most out of his potential. I would love to see C.J. Leslie do the same in his senior season. It’s unknown if he would ever put it all together as a senior but I’d like to see him have the opportunity.
But if I’m C.J. Leslie, I go pro. I wouldn’t blame him one bit. Why deal with no respect from the fans and the officials here in Raleigh for free when you can go get paid in the NBA.
I don’t know how many people will agree with me, based on a lot of the previous comments I’m guessing not many although I’m hoping there’s a few that agree. And I might be way off on all this, I have no knowledge of any of the team’s internal issues, I only know what I’ve seen on the court. Like Dennis Miller always said: Of course, that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.