November 24, 2014

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Maryland big man Alex Len moving up NBA draft boards

Nothing is set in stone, but right now Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel appears to be the favorite to be taken by the Cavaliers with the No. 1 pick in the June 27 NBA Draft.

Len

Len

There have been rumors the Cavs secretly covet Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo, and Cleveland taking Kansas two-guard Ben McLemore or Georgetown small forward Otto Porter is also not out of the question.

Now throw another name into the mix: Maryland center Alex Len.
Actually, Len might be more than a possibility, as Sheridan Hoops draft expert Joe Kototch recently revamped his mock draft and has the Cavs taking the Ukraine native No. 1.

“If someone was drafted first other than Nerlens Noel, I would say it’s probably Len,” Kotoch said. “If you look at the position and the ability to make an impact, Len has prototypical size and a skill set that makes him an impact player.”

The 7-foot-1, 255-pound Len has drawn some comparisons to former Cavs center Zyrunas Ilgauskas, a 7-3 Lithuania native who still works in the organization’s front office.

Len will probably be stronger than Ilgauskas and could develop better low-post, back-to-the-basket skills, but right now he’s not as good a shooter from the perimeter.

“You’ve got to like the size,” Kotoch said. “He’s going to have an impact on both ends of the court.

“He made dramatic improvement from his freshman to sophomore season. He increased his scoring average without a good point guard or any help from his team as far as getting him easy opportunities.”

Len, who turned 20 on Sunday, is unable to work out for NBA teams due to surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left ankle.

He was suspended for 10 games as a Maryland freshman because of questions surrounding his amateur status, then averaged 6.0 points and 5.4 rebounds in a shade over 21 minutes a game in 2011-12.

Despite playing on a team that didn’t utilize his offensive talents nearly enough, Len averaged 11.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in a little over 25 minutes a game as a sophomore. He shot .534 from the field and .686 at the line.

Opinions about his work ethic and long-term potential, however, are not unanimous.

“This is a tough one,” said Ryan Blake, the NBA’s senior director of scouting. “The kid has loads of talent and he can play, but he floated a little bit during the season.

“He’s tall and he can pass the ball — he didn’t get a lot of touches at Maryland — so he’s someone you’ve got to look at. He’s very skilled on both ends of the floor. It would have been good to see him work harder, but it’s hard to pass up someone with that type of talent.”

If the Cavs don’t go big with the first pick — or if they trade down a bit and take someone like Oladipo, McLemore or Porter — they will still have plenty of opportunities to add size with the 19th overall pick or in the second round, where they have the 31st and 33rd selections overall.

Though the 2013 draft is considered weak overall, there are a lot of intriguing big men who could be, at the least, decent backups at power forward and center.

Indiana sophomore Cody Zeller, the younger brother of Cavs center Tyler Zeller, and Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk will likely go in the top 15, while a half-dozen other big men could go later in the first round or in the second.

“Olynyk is more of an all-purpose power forward, but he’ll be able to play a little bit of center in today’s NBA,” Blake said. “Cody Zeller, I really like. He’s a better shooter than he was able to show at Indiana.”

Other players to keep an eye on are Louisville’s Gorgui Deng — “He’s so smart,” Blake said — and Pittsburgh’s Steven Adams.

“Potentially, he can be really, really good, but he’s still got a lot to prove,” Blake said of Adams. “I’m worried about his confidence.”

Duke’s Mason Plumlee and Kansas’ Jeff Withey are also in the mix, while France’s Rudy Gobert, though extremely raw, is projected to go in the top 20 by many experts.

“We don’t have the prototype 7-2 Roy Hibbert or 7-foot Dwight Howard much these days,” Blake said. “What you do have in this draft are players who can play in the post and are versatile.”

Top centers

Alex Len, Maryland

  • HEIGHT: 7-1
  • WEIGHT: 255
  • YEAR: Sophomore
  • Comment: Ukraine native has legitimate center size and fairly polished offensive game, but coasted at times in college.

Cody Zeller, Indiana

  • HEIGHT: 7-0 1⁄4
  • WEIGHT: 230
  • YEAR: Sophomore
  • Comment: Similar but slightly better overall game than Cavaliers center Tyler Zeller, his older brother.

Rudy Gobert, France

  • HEIGHT: 7-2
  • WEIGHT: 238
  • AGE: 20
  • Comment: Mobile big man who turns 21 day before draft has 7-foot-8½ wingspan and 9-7 standing reach.

Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga

  • HEIGHT: 7-0
  • WEIGHT: 234
  • YEAR: Junior
  • Comment: Canadian could have solid career as backup at power forward and center.

Gorgui Deng, Louisville

  • HEIGHT: 6-10 3⁄4
  • WEIGHT: 229
  • YEAR: Junior
  • Comment: Mature at 23 years old, athletic player could fill role as big man off bench.

This series

The Cleveland Cavaliers have the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft for the second time in three years. Who they’ll take June 27 is anyone’s guess, but C-T Cavs writer Rick Noland is exploring some of their best options in a four-part series that began Tuesday with a look at power forwards, featuring Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel.

Coming:

  • THURSDAY: Small forwards, featuring Georgetown’s Otto Porter.
  • FRIDAY: Guards, featuring Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Kansas’ Ben McLemore.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.