If you guys follow me on Twitter or read what I write on this site, you can probably tell I haven't been the biggest proponent of drafting Alex Len with the number one overall pick next Thursday. It's not because I don't think he's a good prospect. I have him at #5 on my big board -- behind Nerlens Noel, Trey Burke, Otto Porter and Victor Oladipo in that order -- so he's clearly not a bad prospect at all.
I just believe that he's inferior to Noel at the same position, and can't envision selecting him as long as Noel gets a semi-clean bill of health.
Having said that, I'm done being negative for the time being. Here, I'm going to take a look at the three biggest positive things that Len can bring to this team if he is indeed the number one pick.
1. Pick-and-Roll/Pop Offense
With his excellent mobility and size, Len has potential to become a great weapon in the pick-and-roll. With excellent hands and a wide base, Len is already fantastic at catching and finishing around the rim. He's been coached well at this point in his career, as he shows phenomenal fundamentals in catching the ball, keeping the ball above his head and finishing all in one fluid motion.
That is probably the part of Len's game that most impressed me: the athletic fluidity for a man his size. There is almost no wasted motion when he moves around. He's not as coordinated a seven-footer as Cody Zeller, but he's pretty close -- which is saying a lot given that I think Zeller is one of the most fluid seven-footers I've ever seen. With his length, frame and athleticism, Len potentially can be every bit as devastating a screener as Tyson Chandler if he works at it. Len's lack of strength is somewhat disconcerting at this point in time, but again his frame should, in theory, allow him to add weight and strength.
As far as his potential picking-and-popping, Len shows great potential with at least a 15-foot jumper. DraftExpress.com says that he made 36% of his catch-and-shoot attempts, but his mechanics right now are good -- he has solid balance, keeps his hand directly under the ball, and his elbow high. That number could jump sooner rather than later. I wouldn't expect him to LaMarcus Aldridge like with his jump shooting efficiency, but I do think he can be a threat eventually out to about 17 feet that defenses have to respect, therefore freeing himself more to go to the rim where he excels finishing.
2. Rim Protection
"Wait, I thought this was supposed to be Noel's forte?" is probably what you're asking yourselves right now. Well yeah, Noel is the better rim protector and shot blocker of the two, and it isn't particularly close. However, Len is pretty good defensively in his own right. Even though his lack of lower body strength can get him in foul trouble (in 11 of his final 27 games -- meaning after the creampuff schedule ended -- Len had four or more personal fouls), he definitely knows how to use his excellent length in order to make it difficult to finish over him. He'll never be confused as a defensive player of the year candidate, but he has potential to develop himself into a solid, mobile defensive center that the Cavs will need in the future, because, well, Tyler Zeller is not that.
As far as rim protection and blocked shots go particularly, Len averaged 2.1 blocks per game (first in the ACC) and an 8.0% block percentage (4th in the ACC). According to DraftExpress's database, he finished 7th in the country among 2013 draft prospects in blocks per 40 minutes. As he develops his lower body strength, I would expect this number to go up. As with all other young, rookie big men, he will struggle initially learning defensive schemes. However, he at least has potential to be a solid defender in the future.
Len's 7.8 rebounds per game may not look extremely impressive upon first glance. However, he ended up in the top 10 of DraftExpress's rebounds per 40 minutes among prospects (tied with Noel at 11.9), mostly because of his offensive rebounding prowess. Again, given his frame and soft hands, Len will probably develop into a very good rebounder once he gets more lower body strength. He shows sold box out technique, and a willingness to dive all over the floor for loose balls when he wants to, but sometimes simply gets overpowered for position. This will continue to be a problem for him early in his NBA career, but I fully expect him to develop into a very strong rebounder eventually.
There are other aspects of Len's game that provide positives. He's got decent, fluid post moves, even though he rarely got to show them off because no one on Maryland knew how to throw a proper entry pass and Mark Turgeon rarely ran post plays for Len because of it. Post offense may potential develop into a huge strength of his. He's also pretty solid at defending on the perimeter when he has to because of his mobility.
Sorry, but it's time for some negativity again. If you noticed, I mentioned the words "potential" and "frame" a lot. And, to be frank, guys that are all potential because they have a solid frame scare the living **** out of me. Len is still an excellent prospect, but he's largely an unknown one because we aren't anywhere close to seeing the finished product. Len might be an excellent defender who learns to stay out of foul trouble one day. He might learn how to become an excellent pick-and-pop shooter. And he might put on weight and strength because his frame allows it. That's all before I even mention the fact that he has a stress fracture in his foot right now, and those don't exactly go away for seven-footers. Just like Stephen Curry's seemingly cursed ankles, most big men that develop stress-related foot injuries tend to struggle with them for the rest of their careers.
I think around the 3rd-5th pick, when guys like Noel and Porter are already gone, Len makes a whole lot of sense because he has all of this potential. But at number one, with so much on the line for this franchise, Nerlens Noel makes more sense as the home run pick because he's simply a better defender and player already while being younger (even though he's also hurt), and Otto Porter makes more sense if you want to go safe.
I won't be absolutely furious if they pick Len -- like I would be if they picked Anthony Bennett or Ben McLemore -- because it will at least be fun to watch Len try to learn and develop into one of the best big men in the game. It's not ideal, but I've learned to trust this front office before after making a seemingly questionable selection (read: Waiters, Dion).
We'll find out in nine days what the Cavaliers are thinking. One thing is for sure though: with this front office, you can always expect the unexpected.