Now I certainly do not know if the Cavs will pick Alex Len with the first pick in the NBA draft tomorrow night. In fact, I don’t even know if the Cavs will have the first pick in tomorrow’s draft. But I do know one thing, Chris Grant has shown me a great deal of skill and courage in his last two drafts and I have confidence. Although it is odd to think of anyone at ESPN who would have anything nice to say about anything related to the Cavs, Chad Ford agrees. He has been very clear that he considers Grant a top GM and makes good trades and draft picks. He has done nothing to shake my belief in him during this rebuilding process including hiring Byron Scott and rehiring Mike Brown. So, if the Cavs pick Alex Len with the first pick in this year’s NBA draft, I am just fine. I won’t be screaming at the TV or acting like the world has just ended. I will be content in knowing that the person making that decision has done a ton more research and has a good track record of finding talent. I will be supportive and root for him to succeed.
That all being said, I happen to like Len as the first pick in this draft. The argument against him is his lack of intensity/toughness and his lack of a dynamic skill that transcends. Noel, another very likely first pick, has the dynamic skill of shot blocking and lightning quick hands on defense. If he can get bigger, he should be a defensive force. But Len already has decent size at 7’1″ and a nearly 7’4″ wingspan at 255 pounds. He is still very quick at that weight and could add more without losing quickness based on his broader shoulders. His hands are not as dynamic on the defensive end but they are very soft for catching lobs and passes. Also, I was very impressed by the video I watched showing his foot quickness and lateral movement on defense. He could actually pick up the guard on a pick and roll and stay in front reasonably well.
Len finishes strong despite his knock of not enough toughness. He has an explosive leap and returns the ball in a dunk after a rebound very quickly. An essential trait for an NBA big. Some big men, even 7 footers, play below the rim. Len is not one of them. He plays above the rim and enjoys it up there (also important in the NBA). Like many “Euro” bigs, he has good form on his jump shot and releases from a high point. Not easy to block. His jump shot is not polished at this point, but the fundamentals are there and he can easily develop the ability to receive the pick and pop. He already has the hands and ability to finish the pick and roll.
Playing with his back to the basket is not his strong suit at this point but he will have Potapenko and Ilgauskas to help him with that and the adjustment to the NBA. Another skill that can be improved over time with hard work. He does have the hands and leaping ability to develop some “go to” back to the basket moves such as a jump hook. Right now he almost exclusively goes over his left shoulder and that will need to change. NBA defenders will cover that very easily unless he can go both ways.
His shot blocking ability is already decent, but not elite. That is another knock on him vs Noel who has that elite ability. However, if he is already good at shot blocking and plays above the rim, this is another skill that can be developed. Probably all of these things that need to develop are reasons NBA analysts are not as high on Len as the Cavs might be. However, another good trait is that Len recognizes his need to develop and improve. His interviews have clearly indicated his desire to improve and his recognition that he can get much better. Not to mention his ability to adopt an entirely new language and seemingly master it so quickly.
Because of his skills that can be developed, I feel that he has sufficient upside to be a top NBA pick. In almost any other year, he would not be considered at the top pick. But this is one year where even experts strongly disagree about who the Cavs should take. In fact, I do not remember any recent year where so many different players have been tabbed as the best pick in this draft. If you ask six experts, you might even get six different players. That is why the Cavs have and should consider trading out of the pick but also why it is unlikely they will be able to trade it.
So CG, if you really feel that Alex Len is the best player in this draft, be my guest. I will not even try to object. But the NBA and I will be watching very closely to see if this draft defines you as the top GM I think you are or as just another clown in the circus. As a Cavs fan, I’ll be rooting for ya…..