The Cleveland Cavaliers will have a top-six pick and the 19th pick in this upcoming draft. In the next few weeks here at Right Down Euclid, we will be profiling players the Cavaliers might draft in the first round on June 27. Today, we profile Alex Len.
Tale of the Tape
Name: Alex Len
Weight: 255 lbs.
2012-2013 Per Game Stats: 11.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.2 SPG, 2.1 BPG, 53.4 FG%, 68.6 FT%
*Will miss 4-6 months after surgery to repair left ankle stress fracture
Like Andre Drummond, Jonas Valanciunas and Greg Oden before him, Alex Len is this year’s prototypical “gargantuan center with tremendous upside that will either dominate or be awful.” There are many mixed opinions on Len, who looks like he has the tools to succeed as an NBA big. There are also several major red flags, most notably the stress fractures. I am not at all sold on Len.
On one hand, Len’s physical traits are what has him projected to go seventh by Chad Ford. He’s a 7-1 behemoth with a 7-5 wingspan. That’s somewhat big. He also has really filled out his frame from his time in Ukraine. Now, sitting at a healthy 255 pounds, he shouldn’t have much trouble battling with pretty much any big in the post. He’s also pretty quick for his frame and light on his feet, which will help him greatly at the next level. The physical tools are all there for him to become a wonderful player, which is why he’s so well liked among scouts. However, here’s where we need to talk about the BIG BRIGHT RED FLASHING WARNING SIGN that is his surgery. Stress fractures are a terror for NBA bigs. Many have succumbed to them, as we discussed in the C.J. McCollum piece. They’ve ruined the careers of plenty of players before and especially affect bigs. Imagine a skyscraper for a second. Skyscrapers are extremely tall compared to the amount of area that they take up on the ground. Thus, they need a strong foundation to keep them stable. If that foundation is weak, they are not going to last very long, and it’s hard to fix that foundation. That’s what happens to an NBA center with a stress fracture in their foot or ankle. Their base of support becomes weakened by the repeated stress, and it’s very tough for them to fix this weakness. Want an example? Yao Ming suffered a stress fracture in February of 2008 and missed the rest of the season. He would go on to suffer stress fractures in each of the next two seasons, effectively ending his career. They were a large enough problem in the ’80s that SI wrote an entire feature on them. Brook Lopez came back fine from a stress fracture last season, but that’s an outlier in the NBA, as more often than not stress fractures are a career-changing problem. Frankly, if I’m an NBA front office guy, I’m TERRIFIED of Len’s stress fracture. It makes him a giant question mark, arguably along the lines of Jared Sullinger with his back problems last year. That’s a risk I wouldn’t be willing to take with a top 10 pick, even in a weak draft.
Len’s post game is excellent and is what he’s going to thrive on if he succeeds in the NBA, using his big body to outmuscle opponents to the basket or his quick feet to get around his man. He’s more of a face-up post player than a back-to-the-basket guy, but as he gets stronger and develops a better sense of moving around the basket, his post-up game will get even better. He’s definitely not the best passer, but he’s not too bad at it and will look to distribute fairly often within his offense. He’s decent on the offensive glass, putting up good efficiency numbers (13.2 ORB%) despite often playing as the lone post with four shooters at Maryland. He also has a pretty good midrange game and free throw touch thanks to his excellent shooting form. Len, if given time to develop, will be a good offensive player. Probably not dominating, but good.
Defensively, Len isn’t a dominating presence as you would hope someone with his size would be. He’s a decent shot blocker, averaging 2.1 blocks, but you would think that at 7’1” with that length, he’d be a little better at affecting shots. That may come still, however. He’s really not great at getting positioning down low, and while he has no trouble staying in front of guys, he’ll get banged on by quality post players like Zach Randolph or Tim Duncan with ease because he’s not good at establishing position. This also makes it tough for him to box out, and he’s not a great defensive rebounder. He does play smart defense, not gambling and only averaging 2.7 fouls, which is very good for a big man that opponents try to target. He’s also very solid out on the perimeter at defending the PNR. Over time, Len’s defense should improve, and he’ll be able to get by with his physical traits and his cautious mindset while he gets stronger and figures out positioning.
Len can be very passive and prone to disappearing, which can be an issue. While he was dominant at points last season – most notably putting up a 23/12 on Nerlens Noel in the first game of the season and throwing up 16/9 with six blocks in the NIT loss to Iowa – Len had his fair share of awful games as well. Most notable was the NIT first round game against Niagara, where on national TV Len vanished as a very small Purple Eagles team kept pace with Maryland early and half of Niagara’s players had at least the same number of rebounds Len did (three). There was also the regular season game at Boston College, when Len went 1-of-5 from the field for four points, and the Eagles, a pretty mediocre team, ran Maryland off the floor. Len can’t have nights off like that at the next level. It also might be important to mention that the 23-point effort against Kentucky to kick off the year was his best game of the season, and it wasn’t even close. While his physical skills are worth giving him the type of praise and expectations that he’s getting, he hasn’t really shown us anything on the court to match his tools.
I hate to say it, but…….Greg Oden. Oden only had a handful of dominating games in college, was fairly passive, had an injury history that should have been scarier to teams than it was and was praised for what he might be rather than what he was. That seems a LOT like Mr. Len, doesn’t it? Granted, we have no idea how Len’s injury is going to affect him. We don’t know what team he’ll be going to; maybe a good situation like Phoenix (good medical staff) or Washington (Nene and Emeka Okafor would really help his game along), maybe a bad one like Sacramento. But as it stands right now, I’m nervous that Len is going to end up with the same struggles that Oden had.
How Does He Fit on the Cavaliers?
To be honest? He doesn’t. Sure, the Cavs would like to have a behemoth center that can potentially be a stud defender. However, offensively, the Cavs already have a finesse center in Tyler Zeller who can do all the things Len can right now, and I’m unsure that Len is going to be any better offensively than Zeller, at least immediately. Defensively, he’d help, but I’d rather have a more sure thing as a rim protector rather than just saying, “You have long arms! Go block shots!” and hoping for the best. Also, would you really be comfortable backing up or replacing Anderson Varejao, your center with a scary injury history, with Alex Len, a center with a scary injury history? That doesn’t seem like a recipe for success. Also, this quote from Peter Volk of SB Nation’s Testudo Times has me nervous:
“Alex Len will need at least a year before he can play in the NBA. If the Wizards, or whoever ends up with him, are smart, that will be in the D-League, but we’ve seen early picks thrust too early into the league before.”
Even if the Cavs somehow end up drafting fifth or sixth, and Len is there, I don’t really want the Cavs to take a project with a high draft pick. There are a lot of guys in this draft who could be of some help immediately, and while I don’t necessarily agree that Len should be a D-Leaguer, I think it is going to take time before Len is of real use to a team. There are certainly better options, and with the foot problem, much safer options, than Alex Len.