Injury prone or not, Alex Len can bang with the best of them in college basketball. Len proved his dominance this season, averaging 11.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while recording a PER of 24.04. These are some impressive numbers for the 7-1 Ukraine center.
Of all the players at the five-spot in the 2013 NBA Draft, there’s no better all-around prospect than Len. With multiple rumors circulating that Len may jump to the No. 1 pick with Cleveland, it proves how valuable having a guy like this on an up-and-coming franchise can be.
Standing over seven-feet tall, with a 7-4 wingspan and weighing 255 pounds, Len is an imposing prospect before you even turn on the tape.
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NBA Draft Comparison: Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Aside from the whole “European” theme that’s extremely obvious, Len and Ilgauskas match up in more ways than some imagine.
To begin, both have similar playing styles, size, build, and could even land on the same team. The Cavaliers could be looking to replace Ilgauskas (who played in Cleveland for 12 years) with a similar player with higher upside. Cleveland knows what it’s doing what it comes to the draft, and they’ve stockpiled 13 picks over the next three seasons (four picks in the top-35 in 2013, and a combined nine picks in the next two years). Len could be the start of that.
Len and Ilgauskas both can stretch the floor in the frontcourt due to their shooting strokes. Len can shoot the ball from anywhere on the floor… not as consistent from the perimeter as Tim Hardaway Jr., but you get the point. They both stand around 7-2 with varied wingspans. Big-Z also weighed only three pounds heavier than Len. They are a match made in European heaven.
One of the main differences between the two, however, comes in the form of athleticism. Len has shown against some of the best players at his position (he demolished Mason Plumlee during Duke games) that he has above-average athleticism. Whether it’s coming off the high pick-n-roll or cutting towards the basket, Len has found ways to score above the rim, one thing Big-Z couldn’t always utilize.
If Len can score the way Ilgauskas could in his Cleveland days (he scored nearly 11,000 points in his career), he’d be well worth a franchise’s interest anywhere from the first to the fifth pick in the draft. The only thing holding him back and drawing another comparison to Ilgauskas is his injury proneness. Big Z had chronic foot problems in his career and Len is currently in a walking boot. If his injuries persist, he may not be headed towards a long stint in the NBA.
For a big man with a European playing style and a bulky upper body, Len is unusually athletic. Even though he didn’t do any pre-draft measurements due to his injuries, when you see him leap it looks like his vertical may cast an interesting number. Len can jump over players, around them, and can definitely finish — like a reverse layup he showed during the Terps’ 83-81 upset over Duke in February.
Whether it’s a midrange game, occasional perimeter shot, dunking, or a back-to-the-basket mentality, Len has it all. As complete an offensive game as any center in the draft class, his skill in the post and cutting to the basket is a very rare combination. This isn’t the big man that you let shoot 15-footers. This isn’t the guy you give a cushion or sag off of. If you dare Len to shoot, he will, and it won’t end in the opposition’s favor.
NBA READINESS: 6.5
Len scores low in this aspect because of his injury. Even though it’s projected that he should be running by August and playing by October training camps, injuries are an unknown species in the NBA. Additionally, without working out for any teams, and with franchises completely relying on play in college and interviews, it’s hard to gauge what Len will do against elite competition.
If there’s any true center that has as much upside as anyone at this position since DeMarcus Cousins, it’s Len. And since one can assume that they don’t have the same attitude, Len has a very bright future ahead of him as long as he stays healthy.
One thing that bothers anyone watching Len is how passive he can appear during games. For a player of his caliber, Len should have been averaging something more like 17/9 this season instead of 11/7. Len seems as if he takes what’s given to him in a basketball game and doesn’t want to step on his teammates’ toes. He’s not a very vocal guy. If Len starts looking for his shot before others, no matter how well he can pass from the post, he’ll be deadly.
– Athletic specimen at 7-1; great physique and build; true NBA center body with high upside for success
– Coordination and agility for his size
– Doesn’t show any discomfort running in transition even though his frame would suggest otherwise
– Great arsenal of offensive weapons
– Back-to-the-basket game is very refined; can shoot with either hand in the low-post not facing the cup
– Moves well without the ball that results in high percentage shots and dunks around the rim (shot 53 percent this season)
– Great passer from the post, high or low; averaged an assist a game this season
– Has shown improvement boxing out defenders when attempting a rebound this year, scooped up a board every 3.3 minutes for the Terps
– Capable defender and learning how to improve; had 2.1 blocks per game for Maryland
– Moves very well laterally on defense
– Ability to shoot off the bounce in the midrange and off the dribble if necessary; shows proficiency as a face-up jump shooter out of the post
– Doesn’t foul much contesting shots, and doesn’t bite on pump fakes often
– Too passive during games; has to learn how to look for his shot before others
– Not a very vocal player, which can prove problematic in big game situations; leaders have to be born
– Not always effective in the pick-n-pop situation if he gets stuck defensively, usually finishes with a flush; if stopped, percentages decrease
– Not an amazing free throw shooter at 69 percent this season
– Ankle issues, like the one he currently has, were common in his two seasons with Maryland; could turn out to be injury prone
– Even though strong in the post, very inefficient from there, making 38 percent of opportunities
Draft Projection: First-round pick ranging from No. 1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers to No. 4 to the Charlotte Bobcats
Len has all the upside in the world to become a dangerous frontcourt threat, but until he learns how to take over a game and gets more polished, his efforts will be clandestine to many fans. Len is a terrific athlete with an immense frame and a great jumper that will separate him from many of the players in his class.
If he plays correctly, ups the intensity a notch, and stays healthy, we could be looking at the next Ilgauskas, or perhaps even the next Pau Gasol.
Should Cleveland take him No. 1?
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