Due to his unique combination of size (7-1), length (7-4 wingspan), mobility, and skill, Alex Len is a tempting prospect to many General Managers. He appears to be much more polished offensively than the consensus no.1 center prospect, Nerlens Noel. Len’s per-40 minutes point production jumped from 11.9 in his freshman season to 17.5 as a sophomore. Typically when Len is mentioned in a sentence, the word ‘project’ usually follows. That is not necessarily the case. He is somewhat of a work in progress but he has solid fundamentals to develop (unlike Noel who needs to actually learn the most basic of offensive moves). From pivot moves, fakes, jabs and rip-throughs, Len showed flashes of a creative offensive game. In saying that, Len must become more efficient in the post. 41% of Len’s offense came with his back to the basket but converted just 38% of his field goal attempts.
Weighing in at a 255 pounds, Len has a solid base to build upon but still has room to fill out which will enable him to establish deep post position against bulkier defenders – an area in which Len struggled during college.
Supporters of Len will vehemently point out the lack of talent at the guard positions and hence, Maryland’s poor offensive spacing for much of the season. For the majority of the season, Len played alongside an offensively challenged center that forced defenders to roll over and double Len. Maryland’s below-average guards often did a poor job of giving him the ball, as even the most basic of post-entry passes were difficult to execute.
As a pick and roll threat, Len is efficient in converting his opportunities. He shot 65% of his non-post-up attempts around the basket during the season. Due to his long wingspan, he keeps the ball out of the defender’s reach and can finish with authority from a variety of angles and distances. However, finishing through contact will be a point of emphasis in the future.
Len encompasses a decent perimeter game where he can hit an outside shot when his feet are set. Although he only made 36% of his catch and shoot attempts, he has a soft touch and solid mechanics (69% FT shooter) which are good indicators he can improve into a consistent mid-range shooter.
With size, long arms and mobility, Len possesses great potential on the defensive end but his lack of experience and intensity leaves a little to be desired. At times, he is able to hedge screens and recover back to protect the rim, whereas, at other times, his intensity levels fluctuate and he often seems lackadaisical on this end.
When he is focused and locked in, Len can be a talented defender and rebounder. Unfortunately, his lack of aggressiveness results in a loss of focus at times and thus a failure to commit to contest 50-50 rebound opportunities. Given his raw age (just turned 20 on June 16th), Len is still learning the nuances of basketball.
So where does he fit with the Pelicans? New Orleans is particularly slender at the center position with only Jason Smith on the books for the 2013-14 season. Though his contract is not yet fully guaranteed, Robin Lopez will likely return to the Pelicans. Lopez showed developed this year with increased playing time (11.3 points/5.6 rebounds/ 18.98 PER), but he has his limitations. On a playoff caliber team, he is not a legitimate starter but is a great back up, hustle center. The combination of Davis and Len in the front line would be a formidable defensive pairing. With the increased popularity of ‘small-ball’ in the NBA, trotting out a lineup similar to the Indiana Pacers would force many of these teams to alter their lineups and rotations accordingly.
A future starting five of Vasquez, Gordon, Anderson, Davis and Len would be a relatively nice core starting group. The question is can the Pelicans actually get this group suited up to play. Vasquez (could have won Most Improved Player if not for Paul George’s year) had surgery on both ankles, Eric Gordon has not had a healthy season since his rookie year, and Anthony Davis dealt with his fair share of nagging injuries during his rookie season. More importantly, Len is currently dealing with a stress fracture in his left ankle and could be sidelined to begin the 2013-14 season.
In summary, Len would be a solid addition to the Pelicans. Whether he is still on the board at 6 is another dilemma. Recent reports are surfacing that the Cleveland Cavaliers have Len as their top priority if they are unsuccessful in trading the pick. Without a consensus top overall pick, it’s going to be difficult for the Pelicans to know who’s going to be on the board on their turn. (Sidenote – it also may be smokescreen by the Cavs to entice teams who wanted Len to trade with them). New Orleans will have to sit back, not be tempted into trading assets to move up (teams before them may come calling wanting to get out of top 5 because their ideal player has been taken) and take the best player available. If Len is there sitting pretty at 6, it would be foolish not to take him.