Maryland Terrapins center Alex Len made tremendous strides from his freshman to sophomore seasons, setting the bar for a tremendous junior campaign.
Of course, the nature of college and professional basketball now is that players pursue the next level based more on ceiling than on production. To that end, the Ukrainian-born Len has a high ceiling thanks to his 7-foot-1 frame.
Len is garnering No. 1 overall pick buzz after initial workouts. He’s come a long way from the green freshman he was in the 2011-’12 season, when he was proficient largely in fouling and little else.
After bulking up considerably in the off-season and working hard on his game, he exhibited some versatility in his second year under Mark Turgeon. Included in Len’s improved repertoire was a well-timed jump on his shot block attempts and a surprisingly shot touch on turnaround and mid-range jumpers. Both are skills NBA coaches love in 7-footers.
And then there’s his height. At 7-foot-1, Len has an asset that simply cannot be coached. True 5s are rare commodities. It’s why Greg Oden was drafted ahead of Kevin Durant, why GMs are willing to put up with Dwight Howard’s antics, and why Len could go ahead of other prospects with more accomplished college careers. However in that vein, general managers must proceed with caution. While the Portland Trailblazers could not foresee Oden’s injury issues, there is a considerable track record for other true 5s simply not panning.
Names like Sam Bowie and Kwame Brown are other, oft-cited examples of teams reaching for centers when more polished prospects at other positions are available. Certainly chatter of Len as a No. 1 overall prospect is guaranteed to draw such comparisons.
Alex Len At A Glance
• Position: True Center
• Height/Weight: 7-foot-1/255 pounds
• 2012-’13 Statistical Overview: 11.9 points per game; 7.8 rebounds pg; 2.1 blocks pg; 2.0 assists pg
• Best Case Comparison: Tyson Chandler. The Dominiguez High prospect was an enticing prospect because of his size, thus went second overall in the prep-laden 2001 draft. Chandler needed time to develop his game, which Len most certainly will upon reaching the pros. Len’s skill set was still a work-in-progress when he opted to leave Maryland.
Once he developed, Chandler found his niche as a defensive presence and rebounder. The points came as a result of his hard work in those facets. Len is unlikely to ever be an offensive dynamo, but can certainly fulfill a much-needed role as a lane clogger.
• Worst Case Comparison: LaRue Martin. The No. 1 overall pick in 1972 set the benchmark both for top selection misfires, and for centers-as-busts. Portland took him out of Loyola with high expectations, but got just four years of ineffective play. Len is more of a project than Martin, who had a solid resume coming out of college. Should Cleveland take the gamble on Len developing, it is putting a lot of chips down on that No. 1 roulette bet.