I've noticed a lot of people freaking out about the possibility of the Cavs drafting Alex Len out of Maryland #1 overall. I'd like to begin this post by stating that I'm firmly for Nerlens Noel at the #1 overall pick. However, that doesn't mean that I think Len is a bad prospect. On the contrary, he may be my second favorite player in this draft. With that in mind, I have taken it upon myself to attempt to convey to the good people of FTS that the Cavs drafting Alex Len, while disappointing, is not something to panic about.
1. Physical Profile
Alex Len is huge:
He is 7'1", 255 lbs. He has an extremely solid 7'4" wingspan and has 6.4% body fat (measurements from DraftExpress.com)
As a comparison, the following is a list of the previous #1 overall picks who were centers and their heights and weights:
Greg Oden: 7'0", 257 lbs, 7'4.5" wingspan (pretty similar)
Andrea Bargnani: 7'1", 247 lbs
Andrew Bogut: 7'0", 251 lbs, 7'3" wingspan
Dwight Howard: 6'9" (!!), 240 lbs, 7'4.5" wingspan
Yao Ming: 7'5", 296 lbs
Kwame Brown: 6'10", 243 lbs, 7'1" wingspan
I could keep going, but the point is that Alex Len is already gifted with an extremely impressive physique for a center--especially one who turned 20 years old less than two weeks ago.
2. Athletic History
Len has stated in several interviews that he was a gymnast for much of his life. From pretty much the time he was old enough to the age of 13, he did gymnastics.
This means several things. First, it means that Len has not been playing basketball since he was little, as many other American prospects have. Second, the agility and balance he gained from his gymnastics training (as clearly shown above) is still with him. Watching Len play, it is clear that he is light on his feet, extremely mobile for a 7'1" 255 lb center, and has good awareness of his body.
Look at 0:22 on this clip. In it, he drives past Mason Plumlee (a moderately athletic player in his own right) under the basket and finishes. However he actually goes up and dunks the ball while facing away from the hoop. Pretty impressive spacial awareness.
Find the 1:59 mark on that clip (note: yes, I know it's a highlight video, but it was the quickest and easiest way to get clips of him showcasing his talents and potential). He displays a very solid up-and-under post move and good footwork.
The point of this section is to show that while Len has outstanding size for an NBA center, he also has very smooth movements and body control, to go along with his quick feet.
3. Shooting ability
Go back to the clip where Len dunks over Mason Plumlee. Now look at the 1:04 minute mark. Here, Len displays the shooting ability that has been vastly underrated. Look at the 1:39 mark.
Here's another clip. In this one, he backs Indiana's C.J. Leslie down, then spins for a quick turn around jumper. He demonstrates very solid shooting form.
I'll be the first to say that I'm not an expert on shooting and form, but from what I know I'd say that Len displays about as good form on his jumper that you can get from a big. In addition to his shooting form and ability to hit midrange jump shots, Len is also a proficient free throw shooter, hitting at around 70% from the line.
I think that all of the above demonstrates Len's proficiency at shooting--making him a valuable weapons in the pick-and-pop and for spacing the floor.
4. Post Play
I know that there are some statistics being bandied around about Len's catch-and-shoot percentage--something like Len shooting 36% on catch-and-shoot twos--and his FG% on post attempts. Unfortunately, I could not find the reference for the catch-and-shoot percentage, so I can't directly address it. I do think that the previous section hopefully did a good enough job to convince doubters that Len is able to shoot capably.
To address Len's post issues, I would like to refer to the Chad Ford and Bill Simmons podcast. Ford brought up several interesting points about Len. These points go along with my (probably overused) statements about the quality of his teammates. I just don't think you can overstate how terrible Maryland's guards were.
Ford stated that, if you watched many of Maryland's games, Len would do a great job of backing down his man, box his man out, and establish post position. The problem that Ford referenced was that he would do all this, and watch his guards then jack up a fade-away three (full podcast here). In addition to his guards ignoring Len in the post, Ford mentioned how dependent bigs are on getting the ball from their guards--but it goes farther than just getting the ball once post position is established. Post players rely on passes to arrive at the right place and at the right time. Without guards capable of doing that, a normal post finish may be disrupted by either the defender who gained time/space to recover or simply aborted due to the incorrect placement of the pass.
In addition to all of the above, Len displayed the ability to utilize turn arounds, step-throughs, and straight-line drives to score against his man. Check out the 8:24 mark on the DraftExpress video.
All in all, I understand that statistics are useful--they help us quantify things that we see and enable us to make comparisons. On the other hand, context is extremely important. Len's stats need to be used and examined with the knowledge that he was placed in a very difficult position for him to succeed.
5. Defensive Ability
I'm not going to push this point too much because chances are, most people are reading this as an Alex Len over Nerlens Noel post--WHICH IT IS NOT. Regardless, Len was an extremely capable defensive player in his own right. (note: all stats courtesy of sports-reference.com)
Len finished the season with a defensive rating of 92.5, meaning that Maryland gave up only 92.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. Considering Maryland was fairly undersized at almost every position, this is pretty impressive. By comparison, Cody Zeller had a defensive rating of 89.1--however, keep in mind that Victor Oladipo played with Zeller.
In terms of rim protection, Len was actually much better than is realized. Len's block percentage was 8%. This was double Cody Zeller's, 1.4% less than Gorgui Dieng, and good enough for 3rd in the ACC. Len's quick feet, long arms, and solid frame allowed him to block shots at a very good rate.
If you still have questions about Len's defense, refer to eraulli's FanPost here, where he does a much better job of it.
In conclusion, I realize that this is long. I really encourage anyone who has doubts about Len to read and consider what I've said. Hopefully I've been able to address concerns that fans had about the possibility of drafting Alex Len and that maybe I've been able to talk someone down off the ledge in the event that Len is picked. If so, I've done what I intended!
I actually really want this to end up being an unnecessary post--that Chris Grant drafts Nerlens so there is no need for this post. I can barely wait! Thanks for reading!!
Remember, the draft is Thursday.