Len to Cavs More Cleveland Heartbreak?
By Jim Weber
As someone who grew up in Ohio cheering for the Cleveland Cavaliers since the days of Mark Price and will be attending Thursday’s NBA draft at the Barclay’s Center, I have just four words of advice for my favorite NBA franchise: Don’t draft Alex Len.
If they do, I have a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that “The Pick” will soon join Cleveland’s pantheon of infamous sports moments alongside “The Drive,” “The Fumble,” “The Shot,” “The Move,” “The Choke” and “The Decision.”
Why? Because if Cleveland picks him, the Cavs would be getting the single least productive college player to ever go first overall in the NBA draft. Go ahead, take a look at the all-time No. 1 overall picks full of Wooden Award Winners, First Team All-Americans and national champions.
Kyrie Irving only played 11 college games, but at least he was fabulous in them. Even Michael Olowokandi had a better college career than Len; the “Candy Man” averaged 22.2 PPG and 11.2 RPG in one season at Pacific.
Over two seasons, Len averaged 9.7 PPG and 7.0 RPG in College Park and the only memorable games of Len’s career were last year’s season opener against Kentucky (23 points, 12 rebounds, 4 blocks), a home win over Duke (19 points, 9 rebounds) and the ACC tournament game against North Carolina (20 points, 7 rebounds) this past March.
While those were great performances, it should be noted that Len didn’t score 20 points in any other college game. As a whole, Len was soft and sluggish in the post and too often a non-factor in games. At the end of this past season, Len wasn’t even named to the ACC’s First, Second or Third Team.
I don’t want to hear excuses about the system he played in or the lack of a good point guard at Maryland. The hype around Len since the Ukranian committed to Maryland in September of 2011 has simply always exceeded the on-court product, and yet people still don’t seem to notice.
Here’s Len getting posterized in last March’s NIT by 6-foot-7 Iowa forward Melsahn Basabe. Does this look like someone with the body or tenacity to bang in the post with NBA big men?
Obviously a lot of projecting goes into the draft process but based solely on college production, Len going No. 1 overall in the draft would be like the Cavs taking Notre Dame big man Jack Cooley (13.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG) with the top pick (Cooley is currently not listed among Chad Ford’s Top 100 prospects). While Len has the potential to be better in the NBA than his college career would indicate, I don’t think he is worth a lottery pick - much less the first overall selection.
Now somehow Len is magically flying up draft boards despite not even working out for NBA teams due to a stress fracture that will keep him out another five months. People keep talking about him being a “legitimate” 7-footer and “upside” while referencing his soft touch around the basket and passing skills.
To me, it appears people are falling in love with the idea of Alex Len more than the player himself. That’s because Len is just the latest European big man that dupes scouts because he is over 7-feet and can walk and chew gum at the same time. Scouts were also high on Darko Milicic, Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Jan Vesely before their NBA careers burst into flames.
The Cavs are in a defining moment right now, with three players to build their future around in PG Kyrine Irving, SG Dion Waiters and PF Tristan Thompson. If they nail this year’s No. 1 pick and acquire a fifth player to complete a lineup for the future via the draft, free agency or a trade, the Cavaliers could be a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference for years to come.
When they won the draft lottery last month, I thought it was something not even a Cleveland sports franchise could screw up. This is a weak draft but I was happy with the Cavs drafting either Nerlens Noel (a great athlete and shot blocker), Ben McLemore (also a great athlete and scorer) or Otto Porter (a possible Paul Pierce clone).
But when word started to leak last week that the Cavs were considering Len with the first overall pick, I panicked. In Len, I see a player who doesn’t even start next season over Anderson Varejao and in the long run is only a marginally better version than former North Carolina center Tyler Zeller. Throw in Len’s stress fracture and the bust alarms are ringing in my ear.
For Cavaliers fans like myself, the idea of drafting an average college player first overall in the draft and expecting him to become a dominant NBA one is such a, well, Cleveland thing to do.