When it comes to Alex Len, you either love him or you’re very meh about him. It’s not so much anything that he’s done that makes him such a polarizing figure; rather, it’s what he hasn’t become or done yet that gets everyone up in arms. Especially when a recent rumor has Len being pegged as the first round, first overall selection in this year’s upcoming NBA draft.
Throughout the year at this site I’ve openly stated that I’m an Alex Len apologist and that I think he can be a very solid pro, so let’s just get that out of the way right now. I respect how much the kid improved, and how he took so many adjustments being placed on him at once in stride. I think that’s a commendable effort in and of itself that speaks highly about his character, to say nothing about his on court play.
That is where the polarity on the subject begins to accrue, when debating his consistency, his inconsistency, his abilities, and his upside. For some, he’s the next Zydrunas Illgauskas; to others, Len is Darko Milicic reincarnate. NBA scouts aren’t completely set on him and neither are many front offices, which is why he’s jumped from first overall (at the start of the season) to late lottery (midway through the season) to mid lottery (after his injury) and back to first round again (recently). No one really knows what they’re going to get should they draft Alex Len. His college career was one of those unique stories where he showed tremendous potential one second and at the same time left a lot of food on the table that went uneaten. Because of that career, even I’d have my own reservations about taking Len first overall (and as I said before, I love the kid).
I can understand why the Cavaliers (who have this year’s top selection) would be enamored with the idea of taking Len. They have his comparative upside on staff in Big Z, and historically have been able to develop big men into solid contributors. Anderson Varejao, Big Z himself to an extent, J.J. Hickson, and even Tristan Thompson are all players who came to the Cavs with an uncertain future, and each one has become a valuable commodity in the NBA.
Plus, Cleveland has the one thing Len hasn’t had his entire career: an elite point guard running the show. Kyrie Irving is the type of player who would both benefit from Len’s presence on the floor and open things up drastically for the kid in the paint. Irving is a ridiculously good shooter and an underrated passer (mostly because his assists are an offshoot of his offense). He makes the players around him better, and can truly take some pressure off Len having to contribute offensively immediately. In many instances, it is a no brainer to take Len.
Still, you have to give pause to a rumor like this. At this time last year, a lot of scouts had Harrison Barnes pegged as a Cleveland Cavalier because of his relationship with Kyrie Irving. Even though there were questions abound about him, Cleveland threw a pretty impressive smokescreen out and confused the heck out of everyone when they selected Dion Waiters with their pick. During this time of year, a lot of misinformation gets spread around by teams so they can have the best chips to bargain with at the table, so you have to take this kind of chatter with a grain of salt.
Len hasn’t worked out, so why he would start to shoot up draft boards all of the sudden is a bit of a mystery, but one with a few explanations. For one, Len not working out is, in a way, being productive while staying put. Other players have to run through a battery of tests which are designed to highligh their flaws, whereas Len just has to answer some hard/soft questions that he has been well coached in. Since scouts tend to look for the worst in a prospect, Len not having to show any of that to them directly has to help.
The other explanation is that other people with a vested interest in seeing Len shoot up might be leaking some info. By that I mean, his agent and Alex Len. A little whisper can turn into a loud roar coming from the right person, and that could easily be the case here. Len makes more money by being considered with the first pick or being taken higher, and teams who truly want him might be more willing to part with certain pieces to move up and grab him. Either scenario is a pro for Len.
Is he a number one pick? Well, with big men it’s quite the crapshoot nowadays. There are very few Olajuwan’s or Ewing’s coming out nowadays, and you sort of just have to guess and hope for the best. Anthony Davis was a lock, but people thought Andre Drummond would bust out big time and he was a meast last year. Same deal for Roy Hibbert when he came out, and likely with Alex Len and Nerlens Noel. There is a chance you could get a superstar, or you could get a downright disaster.
Len has just as much potential as everyone in this draft, so his selection to the Cavs might be warranted if they’re looking for a big man who could develop into something special down the road. But they are in win-now mode, and Len doesn’t exactly fit that bill as a prospect. People cite his domination of Noel as a factor in Len’s ascension to the top pick, but realistically that was Noel’s first game and he wasn’t that terrible. With the first overall pick comes some major expectations and that’s what I’d be wary of. Sure, it’d be amazing for the Maryland brand and popularity, but it could also be the case of Joe Smith all over again. Len may struggle in his first year and be written off immediately by a hypercritical culture with regards to big name draft picks.
Still, Len being the first pick isn’t that far fetched when you look at the other players in the draft, so maybe he has convinced some teams that he’s worthy. If that’s the case, great for him and great for Maryland recruiting. Just be wary of expectations and rumors like these.