Jun 27, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Alex Len (Maryland) walks on stage after being selected as the number five overall pick to the Phoenix Suns during the 2013 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
If you missed the NBA Draft, I’m sorry. It was a wild night, with so many twist and turns that were near impossible to keep up with. I not even sure if the players chosen last night knew where they were going after the draft ended. Most players were wearing hats from teams that didn’t draft them, the Boston Celtics shipped away two prized players, and Doc Rivers and Bill Simmons got into a war of words. Overall? A completely crazy night that started right away when the Cleveland Cavaliers shocked everyone by selecting Anthony Bennett number one overall.
Despite various reports throughout the day that Cleveland was taking Maryland center Alex Len with the first pick, they went in a different direction from what everyone thought. Fortunately for the native of the Ukraine, he didn’t have too wait to much longer before hearing his name selected. The Phoenix Suns pulled the trigger and selected the 7’1″ sophomore with the fifth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Alex Len was not only sporting a red tie in honor of the University of Maryland, he also had the Ukrainian colors on the inside of his blazer.
Just two years ago, Alex Len was entering the United States of America with a limited understanding of the English language and American culture. Now, Alex Len is a Top-5 NBA Draft pick. It is incredible to think about how far he has come in two years, and how bright his future remains. Alex Len has a guaranteed contract, and the opportunity to become the face of a franchise in a city that has been awaiting their shot at glory for years.
Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to see Alex get drafted number one overall. It would have been great for both he and the Maryland basketball program. But by falling a little to fifth, he might have found himself in a better position. For starters he avoided the black hole that is the Charlotte Bobcats.
The Phoenix Suns are about to begin a rebuilding process, one in which they hope gets them back to where they were in the early 2000s. They recently hired first year coach Jeff Hornacek, and have the leagues lowest payroll. With big men such as Shaq, Charles Barkley, and Amar’e Stoudemire, they have a history of creating All Star big men. But with current center Marcin Gortat entering the final year of his deal, the Suns are in need of a young big to build around. They acquired Luis Scola last year, but at 6’9″ and with a three point shot, he is more of stretch four/small forward then a center.
The draft played out perfectly for Phoenix, who was in need of a center. Anthony Bennett, Victor Oladipo, and Otto Porter wouldn’t have made sense for them to pick up, and Nerleans Noel drop out of the top five, gave Phoenix another option. Ultimately, Len was the best player for them to take.
The Suns ranked in the bottom half of the league in rebounds, points allowed, and point scored last year. These are three areas that Len can come in and impact right away. Noel may be more developed defensively, but Len is further ahead of him offensively. Alex’s defense is also underrated in terms of the picture painted by everyone leading up to the draft. He’s not that slow and he has no problems fighting for rebounds.
Phoenix’s inability to score, rebound, and play defense can be partially explained by their lack of a true center. Marcin Gortat fills that role, but behind him there is anyone else. Jermaine O’Neil is old and those balky knees only give so many minutes a night, Scola is better suited to play around the three point arc, and Michael Beasley won’t ever be mistaken for a defensive monster. Alex Len alone won’t be able to turn around the Suns front court, but he is a building block for the future. If Alex continues his positive development, he will put himself in a good position to start in his second year, and maybe even as a rookie.
Having a first year coach in Jeff Hornacek, makes it difficult to assess how Alex will be used in the game. His body has developed a lot in just two years at Maryland, but he isn’t physically ready to battle with the Dwight Howard’s and Zack Randolph’s of the NBA for 40 minutes a game just yet. But having an offensive game, and being the biggest player on the team, he will most certainly see plenty of game time in his first year. Phoenix is still rebuilding, and will be a lottery team next year, but there will be opportunities for Alex to continue his development.
Phoenix wasn’t just a good spot for Alex to end up because of their needs, it is also a good place for him to develop his game without much pressure. Going first overall brings added pressure on a player, their is more media attention and higher expectations. While Cleveland is still rebuilding, they still have the expectations to become a playoff team soon. Washington would have been a good spot because of Alex’s familiarity with the area. But he wouldn’t fit a need, and playing in his college market would created more buzz and more pressure.
Phoenix is a small market, but has a strong fan base. There will be people in the seats, but there won’t be nearly as many ESPN cameras. There isn’t a championship history to add pressure to be competitive right away, and the lack of star power means smaller egos to deal with.
For a player who is still learning English and American culture, Alex Len is finding himself in a good place. He has a bright future, and with how he has progressed you can’t help but think that he can be a mainstay in the NBA. There are more examples of players not staying in the league long than there are of players coming superstars. Alex Len doesn’t have to be the next Tim Duncan or Shaq for his career to be a success. Right now, he has the ability to find his place in an ever-changing league with a team looking to build from the ground up. I wish Alex the best of luck next year in Phoenix, with how hard he works and how determined he is, I think he has a bright future at the core of the Suns.