Posted June 06, 2013

NBA draft 2013: Alex Len is a worthwhile gamble — if you’re willing to wait

2013 NBA draft
Alex Len is projected to be a top-10 pick in the 2013 NBA draft

Alex Len is currently sidelined following surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

The typical buzzwords of a draft — potential, upside, skilled — apply doubly when the tantalizing prospect is a big man. The overall low-ceiling nature of this draft makes dreaming on a 7-footer like Alex Len even easier.

It’s possible Len will someday be the best player in the 2013 draft. It’s also possible that the team that drafts him high in the lottery will end up as a bagholder, putting in the investment to develop Len into an effective pro only to see him never reach that level, or, worse yet, reach that level for a different team down the road. That’s the risk when you marry tantalizing skill with a long expected learning curve. Mix in an immediate health concern — Len had surgery last month to repair a stress fracture in his foot and will need four to six months to recover — and the risk/reward profile gets even more complex.

 More prospect breakdowns: Oladipo | Bennett | Burke

At a base level, the 19-year-old Ukrainian is a compelling package. He has legit NBA height and a frame that looks like it can accommodate a good amount of additional weight as he gets stronger. He shows good agility, nice footwork, can handle the ball and has a solid-looking face-up stroke. Per Synergy Sports Technology, Len was fairly productive on either block. Speaking with several college and NBA people I trust, the general consensus is that they really like Len’s prospects as a pro.

Here’s a sampling of his production in the ACC:

So where is the concern? Len started off the season with a bang, putting up 23 points and 12 rebounds with four blocks on Kentucky in the season opener, easily outplaying the debuting Nerlens Noel, who has a strong chance to be the No. 1 overall pick later this month. That 23-point outing turned out to be his season-high.

That’s not to say that Len didn’t impact other games. He had some productive outings this season against better competition, hitting Duke with a 19 and 9 in a two-point upset win, putting 20 and 7 on North Carolina in the ACC tournament and posting a strong 15 and 13 in the NIT semis against Alabama. But he certainly wasn’t consistently productive, and the Terrapins, despite having a lottery-bound 7-footer on the roster, weren’t consistently good at any point in the season.

A weak nonconference schedule provided a gaudy record and expectations that Maryland would continue to grow as the season progressed, and it didn’t really happen. Len averaged 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds for the season and didn’t consistently impact a league that wasn’t exactly dripping with great bigs last season. The Terps’ spotty point guard play was a significant factor in their overall performance, and unquestionably hurt Len’s consistency, as well.

While having a skilled 7-footer in college should be an immediate ticket to success, it doesn’t always work out that way. We only have to go back to last year’s draft to find two lottery big men from mediocre teams.

Andre Drummond spent his one season in Storrs frustrating a fanbase with his inconsistent play and effort, and ended up going ninth to the Pistons in a classic draft situation where the potential reward was finally worth the risk. He now looks like an absolute steal at that spot, coming off a rookie season in which he averaged 7.9 points and, more impressively, 7.6 rebounds in just 20.7 minutes a game. Illinois’ Meyers Leonard, a more direct comparable to Len in terms of size, physicality and college experience, went two picks later to Portland. He, too, had a credible debut season (11.3 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes) and looks promising going forward for the Trail Blazers.

So, especially in a draft like this one, someone’s going to take a reasonable gamble on a prospect like Len, development curve and all, ankle injury and all. The new NBA collective bargaining agreement helps teams retain their own prospects a bit longer, so that helps a general manager roll the dice on a pick like this. Len certainly has the look of a capable NBA player. If you’re drafting him, though, you have to hope he starts to show that while you still have him.

8 comments
crucial
crucial

I suspect every team in the top 5 is heavily considering Alex Len. I just hope he slides all the way to Phoenix! 7'1", 19, athletic, with a natural feel for the game? Yes please.

jsteppling
jsteppling

Len was not ineffective......he played on a really bad team, with no point guard. Its sort of remarkable he put up the numbers he did. ANd he's not slow. Thats not one of his problems...in fact he's plus quick for a 7 footer. He has huge upside....is also rumored to be still growing. Americans seem to have this weird bias about foreign born players even though the league is full of them.......(Ginobeli, Valanciunus, Parker, Batum, Pekovic, gortat, etc etc)....but still, everytime the subject of a foreign born prospect is raised...you get dumb comments like those below. Len's only question is what position he plays. Is he a four or a five. Doug Gottleib says he's a four...like Pau...and I can maybe see that. But you dont find kids 7 1" with this level of skill at 19.

Ruh-Roh
Ruh-Roh

Don't understand Len's attraction.  Saw him play in semis of NIT and he was outplayed by Iowa's freshman center. May have skills, but is way to slow for NBA game. I see Len as a journeyman center who comes into games for a few minutes a game.

Jameson
Jameson

An inconsistent 19 year old 7 footer coming off foot surgery. I'd be one of those teams running away from this pick.

bklynterp
bklynterp

@Ruh-RohYea you might want to watch that game again.

Alex Len: 16 points, 9 rebounds, 6 blocks
Adam Woodbury: 9 points, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks

Ruh-Roh
Ruh-Roh

@bklynterp @Ruh-Roh I was at that game.  Len was ineffective when the game counted. He picked up stats when game was over.  Woodbury was far more active and the better defender.

bklynterp
bklynterp

@Ruh-Roh @bklynterp Oh cool, so now we will just make stuff up and hope it sticks! Not sure what being at the game has to do with anything, I was there as well.

The game wasn't "over" until May hit the 3 pointer with exactly one minute left. When Alex Len scored his final basket of the game it made the score 66-60 with 2:15 left. The game was over at that point? Or are you saying it was over when his layup cut it to 63-58 with 3 minutes left?

Woodbury being more active is interesting. I'm guessing you are referring to him picking up 3 fouls to Lens 1? Because surely if he was so much more active he wouldn't have finished the game with a third of the amount of rebounds and blocks that Len had. Also curious to know how he was the better defender when Len shot 60% from the floor and blocked 6 shots while Woodbury shot 37% from the floor and blocked 2 shots.  Is it just because you say so?

Regardless of your deluded opinion of the Iowa game if you can't figure out why a legitimate 7'1" 19 year old that can drive baseline and reverse slam on Mason Plumlee, put up 24/13/4 on Nerlens Noel and knock down perimeter jumpers is attractive, then welp I guess you just don't understand basketball very well. 

G'day sir