NC State junior forward C.J. Leslie was rocking the rim Tuesday night against Florida State. Here…
In The Trenches
Each month Pack Pride's writers debate the important issues facing Wolfpack athletics in our magazine. For this month's question, Austin Johnson and James Henderson discussed a hot topic in Wolfpack athletics... C.J. Leslie. An incredible talent who can take over games on both ends of the floor, Leslie has struggled at times with consistency but ended last year on a tear. Expectations are high for both NC State and Leslie, who has been tabbed the league's top returning player in the preseason. However, should that be the case? Should C.J. Leslie be the ACC Preseason Player of the Year? You be the judge. OFFENSE By Austin Johnson C.J. Leslie was voted the preseason ACC Player of the Year, and he has the right amount of hype coming off a superb ending to his sophomore season. His pedigree and "wow" factor are just a few reasons why he garnered plenty of votes in Charlotte. Regardless of what the writers had to say, Leslie is not the best player in the conference. Leslie, in fact, is not even the best player on his own team. C.J. Leslie While that sounds harsh, it's hardly meant to be a slam on Leslie. He's an immensely talented, frighteningly athletic forward who can dominate basically any college game he plays. He showed what he's fully capable of down the stretch last season, and if he can pick up where he left off he will be a force in the league this season. But that's always been the issue for Leslie – consistency. The same guy who was dominating college basketball in March was still prone, earlier in the season, to mental lapses and nonchalant periods. Leslie has come a long way in that regard, but it's difficult to call the problem fixed when he's yet to do it throughout an entire season. Honestly though, for whatever flaws he may have, the problem here isn't Leslie. The problem is Lorenzo Brown is simply better. You see, Brown happens to be the best player on this NC State team and arguably the best player in the ACC this season. Brown is the engine that runs the Pack – a big, athletic point guard that has no equal currently in the ACC. There are perhaps a handful of guards in the entire league that can stay in front of Brown but none of them can match his combination or size, skill and determination. Just glance at his stat line from last season – he was 2nd on the team in scoring, first by a mile in both steals and assists, third in rebounding (as the point guard). On top of it all, Brown is one of the better on-the-ball defenders in the league – a fact that was often overlooked last year as the rest of the team struggled defensively. What you have in Brown is a complete player, a player with no serious weaknesses and perhaps most importantly – a fearless competitor. If you want evidence of the ladder, look no further than the Pack's biggest win of the season last year. It was Brown who hit big shot after big shot down the stretch against Georgetown to help the Pack hang on and go to the Sweet Sixteen. When the Wolfpack needs one player to make a shot at the end of the game this season, Brown will get the nod. Imagine this Wolfpack team without Brown. Tyler Lewis is going to be a very good ACC player down the road, but I'm not certain he's ready to take over a team on his own. And have you seen an offense run without a competent point guard? Of course you have – you watched the Sidney Lowe era after all. It's ugly, and that's what this team would look like without Brown. DEFENSE By James Henderson I love fantasy sports and play both fantasy basketball and football, and what you learn through fantasy is that production can be measured in statistics. When you look at C.J. Leslie's body of work, there is no doubt in my mind that he is the top returning player in the ACC and more than worthy of being the league's preseason player of the year. First of all, Leslie can impact in every facet of the game. Leslie led the Wolfpack in scoring last season with 14.7 points per game and was one of three ACC players to rank in the top 10 in scoring (ninth), field goal percentage (third - .525) and rebounding (eighth – 7.1 rpg). He also finished fifth in blocks per game, joining UNC's Tyler Zeller as the only player ranked in the top ten in all four categories. So, at 6-foot-9 and 200 pounds, Leslie is coming off a season where he was among the ACC's best in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots, and field goal percentage, and the only other player who rivaled him was a first-round draft pick and league player of the year. That's pretty good. C.J. Leslie Also, the expectation is there for Leslie to be even better. Something clicked for Leslie midway through his sophomore season, and his game took off. I'm not sure what it was, but if he did figure it out, Leslie's stats will probably only improve this year. Over his last 10 games he averaged 18 points and 9.1 rebounds while shooting 57.9% from the field... those numbers would have ranked second, fifth, and first respectively in the ACC. He was arguably the league's most productive player down the stretch last season! Also, you want your best players to step up in the biggest games, and that is what Leslie did last year. He had his top two scoring outings against North Carolina. A must-win home game against Miami late in the year that State had to have? Leslie poured in 21 points with 11 rebounds and three blocks. He averaged a double-double (17.3 points and 10.7 rebounds) in the Pack's three ACC tournament games. During the postseason, he averaged 16.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per outing... again, numbers above his season totals. An argument can be made for the importance of Lorenzo Brown to NC State, but the Pack's season really took off when Leslie exploded late in the year. Did Brown play well too? Definitely, but throughout the season he wasn't nearly as consistent as Leslie and it was No. 5 who really put State on his back down the stretch. For that reason alone, he should get the nod, over at least Brown, going into their junior seasons. Finally, the ACC doesn't return a lot of proven commodities. Who else out there is more proven than C.J. Leslie? James Michael McAdoo? What has he proven? Michael Snaer? Mason Plumlee? I don't believe any of those guys are as proven on the court, and as dominant, as Leslie has proven to be. Each certainly have their pluses, but when you look at it all on paper, C.J. Leslie should be the ACC's Preseason Player of the Year. If not him, the next best option might actually be on his own team. However, the season is played on the court and not paper so it is up to Leslie to now go out and prove that all the hype and preseason attention is warranted.
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