Editor’s Note: Pick & Pop is our segment where we pit two TSMD writers up against one another to debate a few questions. In this case, it’s Alex Len and his ascension into the NBA. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we think you’ll enjoy it.
1. Where does Len land in the first round?
Chris Bengel: When all the dust settles, I believe that Alex Len will be a Cleveland Cavalier. This is a very weak draft with three of the potential top 10 picks having injury concerns in Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, UNLV forward Anthony Bennett, and Len. In most drafts, teams wouldn’t consider drafting purely on potential with number-one overall pick. But with no standout star in the mix, the Cleveland Cavaliers will help solidify their frontcourt by drafting the Ukrainian big man. Kyrie Irving is a phenomenal point guard, and giving him a low post force like Len would be extremely beneficial to Cleveland’s future contention. The Cavaliers do have some depth down low, so they wouldn’t have to rush Len into the lineup.
Now of course the potential still exists that Cleveland could move the pick. The latest reports suggest that they are deciding between Len and Noel but I wouldn’t rule out a trade down. We know that the Cavs turned down Minnesota’s offer of Kevin Love for Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and the #1 pick. I wouldn’t be shocked if the pick was moved but I do think the Cavaliers will end up with Len. It just might not be at the top.
Michael Willis: I think Len ends up in Cleveland as well, but I’m not sure he is the first overall pick. There’s a lot of chatter picking up that involves the Cavs trading down in the draft to take Len and acquire some more pieces, and I think there’s something to that — even if we’re not sure exactly what. Dan Gilbert loves to blow smoke into people’s faces, so I think it’s more a matter of us knowing something is afoot, but having to slowly work out the kinks. Len is going to end up in Cleveland, but where is just guesswork.
If they don’t trade the pick, he’ll go to them at one. If they do trade the pick to say, Minnesota or Portland in exchange for Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge (two trades they already turned down but may revisit), then he could go as low as late lottery to Cleveland.
2. What team is the best fit for Len?
Bengel: The hometown Washington Wizards may be the best scenario for Len to land. The Wizards have a solid young core in a backcourt of John Wall and 2012 first round pick Bradley Beal, who showed flashes of greatness together. In Washington, Len wouldn’t have a lot of competition standing in his way. The Wizards current starting frontcourt is made up of Emeka Okafor and Nene. It’s not a group that’s built for the future and Okafor has been linked to trade talks. Obviously the Wizards aren’t a team that’s built to win right now, so Len would have time to grow in the offense.
Even though Wizards management has blown a tremendous amount of picks in recent years, I think they could hit a huge home run with Len. Len is a great back-to-the-basket post player and possesses a very strong mid-range jump shot. Wall has shown the ability to be a solid distributor and could really thrive in the pick-and-roll with a guy like Len. We may seen those types of plays a bit more at Maryland if the Terps had any sort of stability at that spot. Besides the fact that Len is a freak on the court, he would also have a support system in the area. Everyone knows all about his love story with Maryland women’s basketball player Essence Townshend. Plus Len would have the support of his former teammates and coaches close by. It’s not to say that he couldn’t survive in another city but I think it would just be an extra benefit if he played in D.C.
Willis: Anytime someone mentions the Wizards and Len, I take a big gulp. Sure it seems like a great fit, but Jan Vesely has left Wizards fans with a sour taste to European players. Taking Len would be forcing the fan base to chug a vat of sulfuric acid.
The best fit for Len is probably with the Pelicans, actually. Their front court is skim in terms of depth, which means Len would be asked to come in and play a decent amount of minutes, but everything else works out great. Playing beside shot-blocking fiend Anthony Davis is going to make anyone better, and Len could benefit from the attention he’ll command. And I think that’s one thing Len needs to be an effective scorer in the NBA — less attention. The two complement one another incredibly well, as Len can be more of a plodder down low while Davis is a threat from further out.
Oh yeah, and the Pelicans also have one of the best passers in the NBA in former Maryland great Greivis Vasquez, something Len has never had before.
The Pelicans could take Len, sign a big man with all that cap space they have, and allow Len to develop behind him slowly but surely. In the meantime, he’ll have the added benefit of playing with and against Anthony Davis and Greivis Vasquez day-in and day-out, and learning at his own pace. There’s not much to hate. Also, he kind of looks like a Pelican.
3. What’s the worst case scenario for Len?
Bengel: The worst case scenario for Len is Michael Jordan’s big man abyss in Charlotte. Let’s look at the track record of the Bobcats drafting big men in recent years. Emeka Okafor, Sean May, Ryan Hollins, and Adam Morrison and that’s just a small sample size. Jordan just doesn’t have a great eye when it comes to post players. They may have made a solid acquisition when they traded for center Bismarck Biyombo in 2011.
Regardless, it is a horrible situation for Len to begin his NBA career in. There isn’t much of a core in place in Charlotte. They drafted swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and still have guard Kemba Walker but that’s about it. Obviously, Len would get a lot of playing time right off the bat but that may not allow Len to blossom into the type of player that he is capable of being. Len has the potential to be great at the NBA level. We know that he is capable of doing it all and just needs to bring that every single night. If he does, he’s unstoppable. But if he lands in Charlotte, he’ll never realize that potential.
Willis: The Wizards. The Wizards are the worst case scenario for Alex Len. The Wizards are the worst case scenario for Alex Len. The Wizards are the worst case scen…
Let me be clear, I think Alex Len will be a good pro basketball player — unless he goes to the Wizards. Kwame Brown, Jan Vesely, JaVale McGee, Oleksiy Pecherov, Andray Blatche, Peter John Ramos. The Washington Wizards are a bone pit for NBA big men, intent on harvesting their souls to barter their way out of the bad debt accrued from the Arenas era. None of the drafted players succeed here, and they have to leave to get better. Time and again Washington has shown a complete inability to develop big men, due to verbal abuse (Kwame), lack of structure/discipline (JaVale and Dray), not hiring a mentor (Jan) or a slew of other reasons that makes them an unfit spot for Len.
If Len goes to Washington, and gets to play with John Wall and Bradley Beal while learning behind Okafor, he’s still going to fail. The scenario is too perfect, and yet it’s all too familiar. Do not take Len here.
4. How will you remember Len’s time at Maryland?
Bengel: I will always remember Len as a kid who came to College Park as an extremely raw prospect. When we heard that Mark Turgeon brought in a center by the name of Oleixy Len, we didn’t know what to think. Reports had him being a potential lottery pick one day, but few really thought that it was possible. The Ukrainian big man had his moments during his freshman season, but didn’t scratch the surface of how good he could be.
My two biggest memories of Len in a Terps uniform will be the games against Kentucky and North Carolina State. In the season opener against the Wildcats, Len absolutely abused freshman Nerlens Noel to the tune of 23 points and 12 rebounds in arguably his most impressive collegiate game. The North Carolina State game was known for its thrilling finish. With the Terps trailing and the clock winding down, Pe’Shon Howard throws a “pass” above the rim and it was tipped home by Len to propel Maryland to a relatively huge upset win.
Len grew so much in just two years; not just in his abilities on the court, but he was “Americanized” and is ready for the next level. He grasped the culture pretty quickly and realized the phenomenon known as Boston Market. Well there’s good news Alex, you will have plenty of money to spend at Boston Market in the near future.
Willis: I’ll remember Len as the anchor who kept Maryland relevant at a time when they needed it the most during a transitional phase between Gary Williams and Mark Turgeon. Take Len off the Terps roster as a sophomore, and not only do they lose a few more games, but they lose a lot of luster as well. There’s definitely a buzz about your team when it features a lottery pick; scouts come to your games, ESPN wants to give you prime time slots. It’s just good for a Maryland brand that didn’t have a ton more going their way.
Sure, Len was decent on the court, but it’s so understated how much he has helped Maryland remain a national presence overall just by not crumbling under expectations. It’s no coincidence that recruits (particularly centers) are now talking about Mark Turgeon’s ability to develop big men just as Len is about to be selected so highly in the draft. It’s also no coincidence that Maryland is about to bring in their best recruiting class in about a decade in 2014, thanks in large part to Alex Len helping to keep the Terps relevant on the national scene. For that, we should thank him.
5. Five years from now, how will we view Len?
Bengel: You can never really project a player this far down the road before he is even drafted. But I believe that Len will be a productive NBA center that will average anywhere from 12-15 points-per-game to go along with six to eight rebounds per contest. For my comparison, I’m going with a big man who played most of his career with the Cavaliers. Zydrunas Ilgauskas is a guy that Len could emulate at the next level.
When you look at the statistics, Big Z has a career average of 13.0 points-per-game to go along with 7.3 rebounds-per-game and 1.6 blocks-per-game. These numbers are similar to the ones that Len put up in his sophomore year at Maryland and close to what I think he can be. Ilgauskas is a towering big man that could shoot the ball in his day. In his rookie campaign during the 1997-1998 season, Ilgauskas averaged 13.9 points-per-game and 8.8 rebounds-per-game in 82 games for the Cavaliers. I’m not sure if Len will get quite that much playing time even if he does end up in Cleveland. However, those are not far fetched eventual expectations for the Ukrainian big man.
Personally, I don’t think that Len will burst onto the scene like some people may expect. Len may not contribute right away and might get limited minutes in his first year or two in the NBA. But I do think that over time, the Ukrainian that Terps fans have come to love, will show the world that he is a capable NBA center that has a extremely high level of talent and athleticism.
Willis: I hate this game, but I’ll bite. In five years, I actually see Len following a very similar path to Roy Hibbert statistically. I know people will chastise me for suggesting that Len could be anywhere near Hibbs, but in terms of PER, points per game, rebounding and blocks, Len can achieve all of that — and maybe sooner. Hibbert averaged seven points and a little over three rebounds his rookie season. Len would have to be, more or less, a bust of epic proportions to not exceed those numbers, and I just can’t see that. Too much talent, too much heart.
This past season was Roy’s fifth in the NBA, and look how dominant he was in the playoffs. More importantly, look how valuable he was. It took five seasons for Hibbert to finally get there, but he did in a very major way. That’s the case with big men not named Dwight Howard or Shaquille O’Neal; they just take time. With Len, he’s actually a bit better of a rebounder naturally than Roy and runs the floor way better than Hibbert when he came out of college, so he might have a head start despite being younger than him. He doesn’t have the scoring ability that Hibbert had yet, but it’s awfully close.
Len might be so-so for his first two season in the NBA, and people might write him off as being slightly inconsistent but shows flashes of promise. But I can assure you that by years four and five, Len will still be in the NBA, and will be considered a valuable commodity. He may not be a superstar, but I highly doubt with his skill set that he’s going to be a major bust.