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Can Ricky Ledo Find Minutes in Dallas this Season?

Ricky Ledo has been marked by instability throughout his basketball career. He played for four high schools in five years and was ruled academically ineligible during his only season at Providence. By time he showed up to play for the Mavericks’ summer league squad in 2013, he was out of shape and a year and half removed from organized basketball.

Coming out of high school, the 11th ranked recruit in the country — according to the 2012 247 Composite ratings — was known as a scoring machine that could shoot the ball and get to the basket at will. While his stock took a hit from having to sit out a year, the intrigue surrounding his game grew ten-fold. Mavs fans, who rarely have the opportunity to clamor over high ceiling prospects, celebrated the acquisition as a potential second round steal.

Ledo’s first season as a Maverick, though promising, was a mixed bag. The instability theme continued as he was shuttled six times between the Mavericks and their D-league affiliate, playing only 33 minutes in the NBA and logging significantly more time in 39 games with the Texas Legends.

In those 39 games with the Legends, Ledo averaged an encouraging 13.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. So far, he hasn’t been as good of a shooter as advertised. Last season, he shot 32.8 percent from beyond the arc for the Legends on 134 attempts. This summer, Ledo shot the long ball at a respectable 37 percent clip in 5 games in Las Vegas. Ledo is very much a rhythm player in all aspects of his game, including shooting. During the Mavericks’ summer league matchup against Minnesota on July 12, Ledo went 5-8 on threes. He was confident and his release was fluid. However, in his best statistical game of summer league, a 15 point and 9 assist effort against Phoenix, Ledo was only 1-5 from deep. In that game, Ledo’s release was stilted and he shot 2 air balls from deep. These two games essentially represent Ledo as a shooter in a nutshell. He needs to be in a groove to shoot well. His mechanics aren’t terrible but they’re inconsistent. He often fades away when he doesn’t need to, and he has a tendency to pull the ball from his hip and shoot before he’s at his highest release point.

At 6’7”, 200 pounds has great size for a guard. His best skill right now is his ball handling. Ledo is an NBA-level athlete but he isn’t explosive and he doesn’t blow by defenders. As such, he utilizes a vicious crossover and a bag of tricks to break guys down and get to the rim. This approach has its pluses and minuses. When executed effectively, Ledo shakes guys off balance and gets to the bucket for a finger roll or an easy drop off pass. On the flip side, Ledo tends to over dribble or drive wildly in order to compensate for his average athletic ability. Additionally, because Ledo isn’t an explosive athlete and his wing span is “only” 6’7”, he also struggles at times to finish at the rim. This was a major reason, along with spotty shot selection, why he only shot 45.7% on two-point field goals in the D-League last season.

In the aforementioned Phoenix summer league game, Ledo’s potential as a facilitator was on full display. Accumulating 9 assists in total, he used his height to find teammates cutting to the basket and drop passes over top of the defense for easy dunks at the rim. When Ledo allows the game to slow down and isn’t forced to make a decision while out of control, he displays very nice touch on his passes and impressive playmaking abilities.

In fact, in an article on Mavs.com, Legends’ Director of Player Personnel Travis Blakeley noted that Ledo’s ability to facilitate would be the key to seeing time on the court as a Maverick.

“I think for him that’s going to be one of the skills that he has to put forth each and every day,” Blakeley said. “He’s not going to be called upon to be a 20 points a night scorer for the Mavericks. It’s just not in the cards right now in his career. But if he can facilitate, if he can cause problems by coming off the pick-and-rolls and getting into the paint, facilitating for others, drive-and-kick, that kind of thing, and then work his way to the free throw line, I think that’s how Ricky’s going to find his way on the court for Coach Carlisle and maybe earn a few extra minutes this year.”

On the other end of the court, Ledo is not a very good defender. He isn’t disinterested, but he’s not going to be confused with Aaron Craft any time soon, either. Too often he swipes at the ball rather than moving his feet and usually at least once or twice a game he’s caught on his heels while the guy he’s defending blows by him to the basket. He doesn’t show great defensive instincts or awareness but his plus size helps compensate for some of that.

Although the Mavericks lack a true back up shooting guard, Ledo will likely spend much of this season again in the D-League. The Mavericks are very deep and there are only 13 active roster spots. Even if Ledo was on the active roster Rick Carlisle is an unconventional coach, known for fielding funky but effective lineups. As such, it’s more likely that we see guys like Devin Harris, Jae Crowder and Raymond Felton relieve Monta Ellis instead of the developing Ledo.

While the 21-year old prospect is still a work in progress, there are plenty of reasons for optimism in Dallas. It’s taken Ledo a long time to get his groove back after being away from the game so long. His numbers in the D-League improved significantly as the season came to a close, and he’s finally with one group of coaches (sort of) for more than a single season at a time. He’s from a very tough background that saw his older brother arrested for gun possession, his father shot when he was a child, and his surrogate uncle killed. There were concerns about his body language and maturity heading into the draft but so far this hasn’t seemed to be a major issue.

While he may not possess the athleticism to be the star that some expected him to be coming out of high school, he can be a guy who comes in and makes plays as an off guard. With the league’s heavy focus on shooting, it’s a certainty that a lot of work is going into making Ledo a more consistent shooter. If he commits himself to getting in great shape, he’ll be able to better utilize his size, add some explosiveness and do a better job of finishing at the rim. Right now Ledo’s biggest needs are structure, consistency and playing time. While Ledo and fans hope to see him in a Mavericks uniform this season, it stands to reason that more time in the D-League is probably the best thing for him.

Gregory Mason

Greg is a regular contributor for Upside and Motor. You can find other work of his on ESPN's True Hoop affiliate www.raptorsrepublic.com, among other places. Twitter: @VotaryofHoops