Draft preview: Meyers Leonard

Second in a nine-part series analyzing our top NBA draft choices for the Dallas Mavericks at No. 17 on June 28. We will look at one prospect a day leading up to the draft. ESPN.com Insider Chad Ford and ESPN Dallas' and Mavs play-by-play man Chuck Cooperstein provide the inside goods. The order is alphabetical.

So maybe the back-to- back first-round selections of centers Bill Wennington and Uwe Blab didn't go as planned way back in 1985.

Long before Mark Cuban arrived on the scene, the Mavs' draft history -- any history -- with centers has been mostly forgettable. As the summer begins to heat up with the draft next week and free agency opening days later, Dallas' center position is up in the air and potentially in dire need of reinforcement.

With Tyson Chandler long gone, Brendan Haywood an amnesty candidate (particularly if Deron Williams signs) and Ian Mahinmi heading to free agency, adding size in the middle will be critical to any chance to contend next season. Not that a rookie will put this team over the top, but an athletic big man that can provide rim protection and even score a bit around the basket couldn't hurt the cause.

Here's a look at our next draft prospect:


School: Illinois (2 years)

Position: C

Age: 20

Ht./Wt.: 7-foot-1/250

2011-12 stats: 13.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.9 bpg

Why he would fit: One the Mavs' top needs is size in the paint to protect the rim -- as the Oklahoma City Thunder greatly exposed in the first round -- and rebound. Leonard, unlike some big men drafted by Dallas over the years, is not a lead-foot and he could prove to be a strong complement alongside Dirk Nowitzki, not unlike Chandler.

Why he wouldn't fit: He could well be snapped up earlier in the draft. Buzz is surrounding the Milwaukee Bucks with the No. 12 pick after they traded Andrew Bogut to the Golden State Warriors.

Chad Ford's thumbs up, thumbs down: Up -- Long, athletic big man ... Runs the floor well ... Quick for a big guy ... Solid scorer around the basket ... Very good defensive presence in the post ... Good rebounder and shot blocker. Down -- A raw offensive player ... Needs more focus and concentration ... Needs to add strength.

Coop's comment: Not sure if he’s going to be available to Dallas at 17 as he seems to have made the biggest move post-combine. There’s a lot of Tyson Chandler in his game. He’s a legit 7-1 that can run the floor, has a nice touch and is a very good roller in the pick-and-roll game. Obviously he’s raw, much more so than Tyler Zeller, but if you’re willing to wait on him, he might wind up being the better of the two.

Previous prospects

Terrence Jones, Kentucky