Talk of Alex Len going No. 1 in draft? NBA scouts must be crazy

June 23, 2013|Kevin Cowherd

Sometimes you wonder what NBA talent evaluators see with all the film they watch and all the pre-draft workouts they conduct and all the fancy scouting metrics they use.

Sometimes you think: OK, fine. So-and-so is projected as a top lottery pick. But did anyone actually watch the kid play over a full season?

Case in point: Alex Len is projected by some to be the No. 1 pick in Thursday's draft.

The former Maryland big man is one of the 10 players invited to the "green room," where top prospects hang with their families and agents and stare nervously at their cell phones until their name is called and the serial bro-hugging can begin. And the Cleveland Cavaliers, who own the top pick, are reported to be ga-ga over Len.

To which I say: Are you kidding me?

Alex Len? The top pick in the whole draft? Please.

The guy is coming off a mostly disappointing sophomore season for the Terps, which we'll get into in a minute.

Not only that, he's walking around in an ankle boot from stress fracture surgery that's prevented him from doing anything on the court for weeks and will keep him sidelined until the fall at the earliest.

Please tell me how this equates to a No. 1 pick.

Understand, the purpose here is not to bash Len, a good guy who worked hard at College Park and did everything he could to become a more complete player.

And I can see why NBA teams would be intrigued by the 20-year-old from Ukraine. He's a strong 7-foot-1 guy who plays with his back to the basket, has good athleticism and runs the court well.

He's got great hands, passes well and can be an intimidating presence on defense, where he has the wing-span of a pterodactyl.

But the bottom line is this: there were too many times when Len disappeared from the Terps' offense last season. Completely disappeared.

Much more was expected of him than he delivered with that underwhelming 11.9 scoring average. For whatever reason, he never developed the post moves to be any kind of a consistent scoring threat.

As the season wore on, you wondered why Mark Turgeon and his coaching staff didn't run more plays for Len and get him more touches close to the basket.

But two things quickly became obvious: there were too many nights when Len struggled mightily to get open.

At times he almost appeared disinterested in getting the ball down low and preferred to settle for turn-around jump shots 15 feet from the basket.

But even when he did get the ball down low, Len never developed the drop-step and the go-to move to score consistently. And that killed the Terps in their half-court game, where the strategy too often appeared to be: whip the ball around the perimeter until maybe somebody gets open.

Sure, Len had some terrific games for Maryland.

We all remember what he did in the season opener last November, when he dropped a career-high 23 points on Kentucky, along with 12 rebounds and four blocked shots, in a matchup with highly touted Nerlens Noel. Noel, dealing with an ACL injury, is another lottery pick in this draft.

Then there was the 19 points Len scored against Duke in February while out-playing Mason Plumlee in that thrilling 83-81 Terps win at Comcast Center. And Len came up big against North Carolina in the ACC tournament with 20 points in a 79-76 loss.

But there were too many games when big, strong Alex Len was no factor on offense.

We can debate forever whether or not Turgeon and his staff drew up the right plays to use Len effectively, and whether they went to him enough all game long. (I think they tried everything possible to get him involved.)

And we can wonder how much the stress fracture he apparently suffered late in the season limited his effectiveness.

(If Len had been lighting it up for weeks and his production dropped off dramatically, sure, maybe you blame the injury. Me, I'm not buying it.)

But to think a player coming off such a disappointing season could be taken No. 1 in the NBA draft is mind-boggling.

If the Cavaliers go ahead and pull the trigger and make Len the top pick Thursday, they're crazy.

Sure, they'll be doing it on raw potential, rather than production, which is a gamble a lot of teams seem willing to take. And since this is a mediocre draft class, Len will probably go higher than he should, which in this case is probably at No. 6 or No. 7 on the board.

But nothing about his game makes him worthy of going No. 1.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kevincowherdsun

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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