Writer’s note: This is the third of a five-part series breaking down the potential targets for the Cavaliers with the no. 1 pick. The final two will appear on each Monday leading up to the draft. Previous profiles: Victor Oladipo, Ben McLemore
In an NBA that is almost completely devoid of traditional centers, a commodity like Alex Len is very valuable. Len possesses the skills and athleticism already that are the groundwork of a potentially great NBA center. If he puts it all together I believe that Len will be hands-down the best player in this draft.
Len will turn 20-years-old this coming Sunday so there’s good reason to believe that he has much more development to do both physically and basketball-wise. He is by no means a finished product. With that said, he already has an outstanding base of abilities to build on.
He has the ideal size and build of an NBA center at 7’1”, 255 lbs., with a 7’3.5” wingspan. He still should try and put on some more weight to handle the physicality of the NBA but there’s no reason to believe he can’t do that when you look at his frame. Compared to other top post players in this draft like Nerlens Noel (7’0”, 206) and Cody Zeller (7’0”, 230) who are both super skinny, Len has nice wide shoulders and hips. His build is solid such that it’s almost surprising that he weighs only 255 pounds. Noel and Zeller on the other hand are both built like a lamp post in a way that it’s harder to project them being able to bulk up to play the post effectively in the pros. I have no such doubts that Len can hang with the big boys down low from day one and will only get better as he continues to get old and his body continues to develop.
With that solid body comes surprising athletic ability and mobility. He moves fluidly for a guy his size and doesn’t lumber around. He’s able to hedge very well on screens and recover easily, something that young bigs typically struggle a lot with. His lateral quickness is excellent and he’s able to defend on the perimeter. As a rim protector he’s everything you want. He didn’t block as many shots as Noel but his 3.1 blocks per 40 minutes were still very good. And that was actually down from 4.0 as a freshman which is easily explained by the fact that opponents simply didn’t attack the rim when he was in the game. Opposing players shot only 8-28 on the season at the rim when Len was in the game. Defending against post-ups he’s strong enough to hold his ground. He’s certainly not a great post defender but for his age you can’t complain. Len is also a very adept rebounder, averaging 11.9 per 40 minutes (the same as Noel, one more than Zeller). And you could even make the case that Len is a “clutch” rebounder.
What I love most about Len though is his offense. It’s amazing to me to see a guy that’s his size, at his age, who’s able to do the things he does at the end of the floor. He has all the tools…drop step, spin, hook, face-up, jumper, dunking, and catching lobs. He’s a tremendous finisher at the hoop and he doesn’t get bullied by opposing players. He handles double-teams extremely well and has very good court vision and passing ability. He only averaged one assist per game but with an improved cast around him I’m sure that number will go up. He wasn’t playing with much in way of talent at Maryland. The guards were especially bad and they didn’t have a true PG. But we’ll talk more about them later.
His footwork is very good and he possesses multiple offensive post-moves. He has a soft touch around the rim with hook and scoop shots. But don’t confuse Len with being a finesse player. He can throw it down with the best of them and has shown very good leaping ability as he’s able to fly from outside the lane to finish with dunks. He’s not just a straight-up dunker like a lot of seven-footers. He has power around the rim and also has the adept athleticism to finish alley-oops with ease. As a pick and roll player he’s very dangerous as he made 65% of his non-post up attempts last season. And he has a great looking shooting stroke. He didn’t shoot a great percentage on his jumpers (36% in catch-and-shoot situations) but his stroke is really nice and he shot 69% from the free throw line so he’s sure to improve that shooting percentage.
I love those DraftExpress scouting videos. Every time I watch one I’m in love with the player while they’re going through the “Strengths” and each player looks like a top five pick seemingly. Then they show the “Weaknesses” and all the clips that make the player look absolutely worthless and pathetic. That Len film is one of the few where that doesn’t happen for me. I absolutely love all the strengths of his game so much. But the weaknesses aren’t that big in my opinion.
Len’s perceived passiveness stems a lot from the fact that the guards on his team were absolutely terrible as I’ve mentioned previously. Maryland had five players who averaged more than 3 turnovers per 40 minutes last season. They also had only one player who shot better than .355 from the three point line. Anyone who watched Maryland basketball last year will tell you that there was no real talent on that team outside out Len. I’m not going to hold it against a 19-year-old kid if he has lapses of passivity due to terrible teammates. I’m not excusing it, but it’s not like it was a common plague. Len’s per 40 minute numbers are still very good: 18.0 PTS, 53.4 FG%, 11.9 REB, 3.1 BLK.
Len acquitted himself well last season when matched up against other top bigs Noel and Mason Plumlee. Check out these head to head numbers…
|Nov. 9||Len: 23 PTS, 12 REB, 4 BLK, 32 MIN||Noel: 4 PTS, 9 REB, 3 BLK, 26 MIN|
|Jan. 26||Len: 8 PTS, 10 REB, 1 BLK, 34 MIN||Plumlee: 19 PTS, 7 REB, 0 BLK, 37 MIN|
|Feb. 16||Len: 19 PTS, 9 REB, 3 BLK, 28 MIN||Plumlee: 4 PTS, 3 REB, 0 BLK, 33 MIN|
|Mar. 15||Len: 10 PTS, 8 REB, 1 BLK, 32 MIN||Plumlee: 19 PTS, 7 REB, 1 BLK, 38 MIN|
Len dominated two of the matchups and help up fairly well in the other two, having essentially what were average games for him. The point is that when Len is fully engaged, going up against another big who many perceive to be better, he brings his A game. Naturally you’d want that every time but again, given the circumstances with the Maryland team it’s understandable. And it’s good to have those strong performances on hand to prove that he has the ability to dominate even very strong competition. And of course I mean “strong” in the figurative sense, meaning “very good”; not actually physically strong necessarily because I’d never want to insinuate in any way that I think Noel is physically strong. But I digress…
Len needs to get stronger. That’s fine. Most college kids need to. And as I discussed earlier, given his build, I don’t think that will be a problem. The other issue was that he has an “unpolished offensive game”. Considering that these days most post-player have no game at all I’m not worried that Len isn’t super polished. All the skills are there. He needs to work on his left hand and develop some counter moves. But at least he has a first move, unlike other some other bigs who many people have as the top player in this draft for reasons that still are not completely clear to me.
The only real concern to me is the injury with the stress fracture in his left ankle. Were it not for that I’d take Len no. 1 without batting an eye. But the injury is concerning, especially to Cavs fans who remember the pains that Z went through all those years with the many surgeries to his feet. I don’t claim to be any sort of doctor, but I do know how to use WebMD which says unfortunately for Len that stress factors tend to recur in 60% of those who suffer them. That worries me a little and it’s really the only thing that gives me any pause about taking Len no. 1 overall for the Cavs.
From a fit standpoint Len would be perfect on the Cavaliers. With his more developed low-post game he’d be a great compliment to Tristan Thompson. Plus Len has the ability to step out and hit jumpers, something that Thompson doesn’t really do at this point. He’d also be a beast running the pick n’ roll with Kyrie and Dion. And let’s be honest, every team in the NBA would love to have a seven foot center with solid low-post moves and body and athleticism to defend and dominate around the rim on both ends. There just aren’t many of those kinds of players left in the NBA. And I believe that if he can stay healthy that Len has a very good chance to develop into a superstar center at the next level.Follow @ClevelandFlack