Future Watch: T.J. Leaf Rookie Basketball Cards, PacersFuture Watch: T.J. Leaf Rookie Basketball Cards, Pacers – After a tough first round series against the Cavaliers, the Indiana Pacers are out of the playoffs. After a busy 2017 offseason that saw Indiana shipping off veteran star Paul George to Oklahoma City, the team responded by finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference. Now, the team is looking towards the 2018-19 season and hoping their new group of players can gel for an even deeper playoff run. Rookie forward T.J. Leaf was a contributor in the regular season, but he’s still a little too raw and didn’t see action in the playoffs. His development will be worth watching.

T.J. Leaf was born in Tel Aviv, Israel. His father, an American, played professional ball in Israel for 17-years. T.J. spent his first two and a half years in Israel before his family moved to Lakeside, California. T.J. spent his early years learning from his dad who coached him in summer leagues up into high school. Brad Leaf helped his son develop his skills inside as well on the perimeter, to help with his versatility. In his junior season at Foothills Christian High School in El Cajon, CA, T.J. averaged 27.4 points, 14.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.8 steals and 2.7 blocks per game. He would help lead his team to a San Diego Section Division II championship and earned Division II Player of the Year honors from Cal-Hi Sports.

In his senior season, Leaf averaged 28.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. He went on to earn McDonald’s All-American honors and USA Today named him second-team All-USA. He was also a runner-up to Lonzo Ball for California’s Mr. Basketball. Leaf would originally commit to play for the University of Arizona, but after some supposed drama with Arizona’s coach, he chose to play for UCLA.

At UCLA, Leaf paired with Lonzo Ball to form a highly potent offense. He and Ball were named to the mid-season watch list for the Wooden Award. Leaf would finish the season as the Bruins’ top scorer with 16.3 points per game. His 61.7% shooting rate ranked him third among Power Five conference players and was named first-team All-Pac-12 along with teammates Ball and Bryce Alford. After the Bruins’ season, Leaf announced he was leaving UCLA and declared for the 2017 NBA draft.

Heading into the draft, many scouts saw Leaf as a top-20 pick. His size, 6’10”, 225lb was perfect for an NBA power forward. Running in a high tempo offense with Lonzo Ball also helped with Leaf’s exposure, as the talented point guard set him up for many scoring opportunities. Leaf showed the ability to score in a variety of ways in college, from both inside and outside. His athleticism along with his ability to run the floor and finish at the rim stood out to scouts. Like many prospects, he would need to add strength to complete with NBA big men. On draft night, Leaf was taken by the Pacers with the 18th overall pick.

At the beginning of the season, Leaf played 16.6 minutes per game in October. As the season wore on, his minutes dwindled to around five per game. While he was proficient on offense, shooting .471 from the floor and .429 from deep (in limited attempts), his defense was a work in progress. His best game came on January 6th, when he played 20 minutes and scored 15 points on 6-of-6 shots including 3-of-3 from behind the arc. In the playoffs, Leaf played only four garbage time minutes in a 121-87 Game 6 blowout win.

He’ll need to work on his defense moving forward, but T.J. Leaf is a prospect to watch. Not only can he score inside with his finesse and footwork, he can step outside and hit long range shots. Despite losing in the first round, Indiana made some noise this season. Their current roster is mostly intact and they’ll be looking for players like Leaf to take a step forward next season. Now is the time to snatch up his rookie cards. By this time next season, they could be on a completely different level.

T.J. Leaf already has some great autographed rookie cards in the market. They can be found in 2017 Panini Contenders Collegiate Draft Picks Basketball. As a draft pick, collectors can be assured to find NBA licensed rookie cards of Leaf in the complete portfolio of 2017-18 Panini NBA basketball card products during the 2017-18 NBA season.

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