If Nerlens Noel, health and skill set questions and all, is the No. 1 overall pick, Alex Len looks to be next in line in terms of centers. Len has a lot of evaluators in his corner, but will the former Terrapin end up being the best pick of the rest of the big-man litter? Toss Up looks at Len vs. The Field After Noel.
Len showed flashes this past season of a very talented NBA big man. He moves well for a guy his size, even as he added some needed weight from his freshman season. He has good hands and very nice footwork on initial moves. He's developing a fuller arsenal of post moves and needs to become a more consistent force on the block, which also will require him to gain more strength. He was handcuffed a bit by Maryland's poor point guard play last season and overall lack of spacing on the offensive end, but he's still in the early stages of his development as an offensive player.
He's not consistent defensively and probably will have trouble in the post initially at the NBA level, but obviously has the size, footwork and frame to become a better defender.
Depending on where you look in the rest of the cohort, you can have shot-blocking and some rebounding (Jeff Withey), shot-blocking and some passing skill and a bit of emerging offense (Gorgui Dieng), or a polished face-up offensive game with less physicality (Kelly Olynyk). None of the other options appear to have the overall upside of Len, although I suspect Dieng will have a solid NBA career. As a Knicks fan myself, he would be pretty inviting at No. 24 overall.
Current NBA fit
With the rare exceptions of the best players in the league, the NBA is mostly a league of specialists, guys who do one or two things extremely well and fit in around the star players. Len at this point doesn't do anything extremely well in terms of an NBA level, so there could be some early struggles as he continues to learn and adjusts to the bigger, stronger players and faster tempo.
Both Dieng and Withey should immediately provide some semblance of rim protection at the next level, while Olynyk could be a frontcourt matchup problem on the offensive end with his polished face-up game that could allow him to play with another big successfully and use his size against opposing fours.
Len was good on the offensive glass and as a shot-blocker last season, but he wasn't elite. Elite skills often translate. Very good ones are more variable.
Advantage: The Field
NBA range of possibilities
Bigs are impossible to predict with any sense of certainty, but Len looks like he has the physical traits and raw skill to be a very good NBA player down the road. If everything comes together for him, he could end up as the most successful player in this draft class. It's hard to cap the downside since we don't know at this point that anything he does will translate fully to the NBA. He'll certainly have a chance with whatever team drafts him to develop over the next several years.
Best guesses on the other three: Dieng becomes anywhere from a rotation guy to a Serge Ibaka-level starter, Withey and Olynyk are rotation-type specialists who can do some things well but whose weaknesses would get exposed in heavier minutes.
There are rumors that Len even could go No. 1 to Cleveland. He looks fairly certain to be gone in the first seven picks. Draft-pick value obviously varies by year, but would you rather spend a top-5 pick on Len or get one of the other guys late in the first round? I don't think the ultimate gap between Len and the best of the rest of the group will be large enough to justify that pick gap and the money associated with it in a cap league.
Advantage: The Field Len projects to be better than the rest of the competition after Noel, but don't discount the potential of the others, especially as they likely will land on better teams and certainly will have less pressure to perform quickly. Whoever drafts Len will have reason to be excited -- his promise is very tantilizing -- but a smart team at the bottom of the round may end up with a quality player, as well.