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Phoenix Suns 2015-16 Report Cards: Jon Leuer was worth every penny

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Despite limited playing time after Earl Watson took over, Jon Leuer had a fine season.

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Like many last June, I was surprised when the Suns acquired veteran Memphis benchwarmer Jon Leuer in exchange for 44th pick in the Draft Andrew Harrison.

Leuer seemed an odd fit. He was an undersized power forward with a reputation for outside shooting that was not really matched by his production.

Most ended up assuming that Jon Leuer was Markieff Morris insurance. A player who could fill in some minutes if and when Kieff was traded before the season started. He wasn't a sexy player. Most assumed the majority of the excess minutes at the power forward position would go to Mirza Teletovic.

Few, I expect, envisioned Leuer playing nearly 20 minutes per game. Fewer, I imagine, expected to see him start nearly 30 games.

That is exactly what happened, however. And contrary to what many of us might have expected, Leuer's ascendancy likely had more to do with his own strong play than the oddity of the Morris drama.

A Tale of Two Seasons

Leuer's season has to be evaluating in two parts: pre- and post-Watson.

Under Jeff Hornacek, Jon Leuer had a career year. Through January 17th, Leuer was playing 21 minutes per game, and averaging 9 points, 6 boards and an assist per game on 49% shooting, including nearly 41% from 3.

During this time he was undeniably our most effective power forward. Markieff, before he was traded, was shooting only 40% on the season and was atrocious defensively. Mirza, while putting up slightly more efficient numbers from beyond the arc, was a defensive liability and struggled to rebound. He had yet to hit the stride he would hit towards the end of the season.

For whatever reason, the coaching changeover from Hornacek to Watson entailed a massive and almost immediate decline in Leuer's playing time. This included a span DNP-CD's in Watson's early tenure, when the young coach was attempting to build a bridge with the disgruntled Morris.

Leuer did struggle during this time, with his shooting touch from beyond the arc declining to just 31%. But importantly, Leuer also lost some confidence during this time. He took fewer shots from beyond the arc (just 1.1 per game, down from over 2 in the first half of the season), committed fewer turnovers and contributing fewer assists.On the court, Leuer looked timid. He seemed to not be sure what his role was in the new Watson regime. He passed up open opportunities at three point shots that he was more than willing to take in the first half of the season. He played much more conservatively on offense in general.

Grading Performance

Part of grading any player is understanding what the expectation for that player should be. For Leuer, expectations were rather muted. CARMELO, the 538 player projection tool, predicted Leuer would be a net neutral this season, producing 0.0 wins above replacement. He ended up producing about .3, so he slightly outperformed the Nate Silver-based projection.

ESPN, for their part, projected Leuer to average 16 points and 13 rebounds per/40, and to average a true shooting percentage of 51.1%. Leuer greatly outperformed these projections, putting up 18.1 points per/40, 16.1 rebounds per/40, and putting up a true shooting percentage of 55.5%.

From a fan standpoint, Leuer was one of the more exciting revelations of an otherwise uninspiring season.

Who can forget when he dunked all over Boogie?

Jon Leuer Dunks over Boogie

Leuer also had some of the best overall performances of the season, including putting up 16 points and 14 boards in just 20 minutes in the season finale. He also had impressive 20 point, 12 rebound performances against the Lakers and the Pelicans earlier in the season.

In addition, Leuer's 10 double-doubles put him behind only Tyson Chandler and Alex Len for most on the team.

All things considered, Leuer probably deserves about a B+. He has to be challenged a bit because of his lowered production and efficiency at the end of the season. But he met pretty much all of his pre-season expectations, and on such a bargain basement contract he more than lived up to expectations.