Over the next two months, I’ll take a look at some potential draft prospects that could find themselves in wine and gold come the end of June. First up, we take a look at Maryland center Alex Len. It was recently announced by Len’s representation that the center will miss the next 4-to-6 months as he undergoes surgery for a stress fracture in his ankle. Prior to that news, many mock drafts had the Cavaliers interested in selecting Len should their pick fall in the 4-6 range. Here, we’ll dive into the film of Maryland’s ACC quarterfinal against North Carolina to see a snapshot of Len’s game.
Let’s start with an excerpt of some of the thoughts from around the web on the big man from the Ukraine:
Len is a big, traditional center who can score in the paint or step outside and hit a jumper. He’s still a work in progress; he needs guards who can get him the ball in the right position to score. But he moves very well for his size and is a good rebounder and shot-blocker. Some scouts compare him to a young Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
“Impressive athlete for a 7’1″ player … Quick off his feet … Runs up and down the court with ease … Hard for defenders to keep tabs on, due to his activity without the ball … Sets a lot of screens … Soft touch around basket … Gets a lot of tip-ins off of offensive rebounds … Effective in the post due to his length and touch … Really competes for post-position … Solid shooter, that displays range out to 18 feet already”
“The intrigue around Len begins with his outstanding physical profile. Standing 7-1, with a huge wingspan, big shoulders, and a frame that will surely fill out nicely over the next few years, Len clearly has terrific tools to work with. He’s also a very good athlete for his size, as he runs the floor well, elevates off the ground quickly, and is capable of playing above the rim with ease.
Playing just 21 minutes per game last season upon becoming eligible, Len was up and down as a freshman as noted, stringing together a handful of very impressive performances, but also being a total non-factor in many Maryland contests. This is somewhat understandable considering the cultural adjustment involved with moving from Ukraine, as the language barrier and adaptation to a completely new style of basketball and academic schedule would be a significant burden for even the most talented prospect to shoulder.”
The 7-foot Ukranian has a tremendous skill package, and played this past season without a point guard. Does he need to be more assertive? Absolutely. However, he’s a 7-footer who can score on the block — and there just aren’t many of those around.
Len shows the agility to get up and down the floor, make plays at the rim and the touch to knock down shots from mid range. While some may knock his fluidity and toughness, it’s important to remember that bigs normally take the longest to mature. For a 20-year-old who is still adjusting to American culture, being away from Ukraine where he grew up, his sophomore season was excellent. Len is the classic boom-or-bust pick that teams in the mid lottery will be afraid to take as well as not take and miss on.
53.4% FG, 68.6% FT, 11.9 PTS, 7.8 RBS, 2.1 BLK, 1.0 AST, 0.2 STL, 1.6 TO
Now, let’s get to the film. The first thing I noticed was what many things I have read mentioned in that Len wasn’t utilized as a feature player in the Terrapin offense. He was second on the team in scoring and shot attempts, playing just 26.4 minutes per game. He operated out of the high post at the start of almost every possession, looking to high screens for the point or picks down low to free up the wings on curls and cuts out to the wing. When he did post up, he was committed to posting, turning to face, kicking it out if necessary, and reposting.
In this possession against the Tar Heels, watch his ability and willingness to run the pick and roll. Len is #25 in black, in case you weren’t sure. He is at the right wing. Notice his nice NBA frame. He probably needs to put on some more weight still, but he had put on 30 pounds since setting foot on campus in College Park.
The Maryland guard decides to go opposite Len’s pick, heading toward the middle as his defender recovers. Notice how there is room to operate behind Len in the paint. A slip here will work well.
Both Carolina defenders close in on the guard as he goes up as if he’s taking a shot. Here comes the roll from Len who has his eyes on his teammate the entire time, not taking for granted that he’ll shoot it.
Len gets the ball in space as the helpside defender moves over, but it’s too late at this juncture. From what I saw on film, Len is confident in taking 2 or 3 dribbles on a move to the rack after squaring up to the hoop. There is only 3 seconds on the shot clock as he catches in the paint, however.
Len elevates and executes a one-hand crunch at the rim. You’re not going to stop a 7-footer as confident in his offensive skills as Len in that short amount of space.
Here, you’ll see Alex post up prospective 2014 NBA Draft Lottery pick James-Michael McAdoo on the right block. Notice his good wide stance and how he uses his arms to gain the position required.
He catches the ball and immediately looks to square up. His size advantage is clear here (McAdoo is about 6’9″).
On the square up, Len does a 1-2 of rip through fakes with the basketball that get McAdoo swaying each way.
When he fakes middle, he quickly shifts his weight and takes McAdoo baseline. He gets his shoulders past McAdoo’s, and it’s game over.
Len is aware of the where the basket is and chooses to go up and under to avoid a potential blocked shot.
He plants his foot into the ground underneath the hoop, spins, elevates, and slams it down with two hands and plenty of authority. Though he wasn’t the offense’s focal point, Len shot 54% inside the arc, and his offensive rating (112.7 points per 100 possessions) ranked at 304th in the nation last season.
Here, we see Len posted up on the opposite side with McAdoo shadowing again.
Notice the face-up in the corner. This guy is not afraid to square up and pop mid-range jumpers. It’s probably why Chad Ford threw in the Ilgauskas comparison.
We see Len use his body to shield the defender from his dribble, but make no mistake that there is a certain level of confidence in his dribble drive form the post.
He turns to the middle for a half-hook shot, but he gets fouled by McAdoo and heads to the line. In this particular game, Len was just 5-of-7 from the field, but he went to the line 12 times. He made 10 of the 12 foul shots, despite being just a 69% shooter on the season.
It was hard to gather much of Len’s defensive impact from this game, because the Terps were playing zone for most of the contest. Len played what amounted to the middle of a 2-3 zone it appeared, roaming the paint mostly, only leaving to hedge on pick and rolls and account for offensive players in the short corner. Here, we’ll see a Carolina player make a curl and cut straight for the hoop, starting from the left wing.
Len doesn’t go as far to knock the cutter down, but it doesn’t look like that’s his responsibility here. Instead, he recognizes the play and gets in good positional defense to make a play on the shot attempt.
As Leslie McDonald goes up for the shot, Len turns, keeping his body away from the offensive player and uses his long arms to disrupt the shot attempt. McDonald spins it off the far side of the rim due to Len’s presence. With 2.1 blocks per game and a blocked shot percentage of 8.0% (good for 69th in the nation), what I saw on film in this game was more of a shot influencer than a shot blocker, but the numbers indicate he’s more than that.
Here we see a nice play on the offensive glass from Len. We begin with a deep three-point attempt for Maryland on the left wing. Len immediately checks where McAdoo is to fight for position on this rebound.
Len has McAdoo pinned to play the front of the rim and the opposite side of this rebound should it misfire.
Len times the miss up perfectly, rising up and laying it back in softly without coming back down first.
This is just another snapshot of Len’s very solid touch around the rim.
Here, I just wanted to show Len’s ability to defend and hedge on the pick and roll. It’s going to be a huge part of the big man profile under Mike Brown, and Len has that ability. Another comparison that’s been given to him is Jonas Valanciunas, and I can totally see that. Len isn’t your traditional, plodding seven footer. He can get out to mid-range on offense and defend out to the arc on pick-and-rolls. It’s a lot of the reason why I liked Valanciunas heading into the 2011 draft so much with the fourth selection. Len may need some time to learn how to consistently bang down low with bigger centers, but his pick and roll defense under Mike Brown would ultimately be very good in my estimation.
Here, we see another shot affected by Len. McAdoo attempts to go flying past Len starting from the top of the key.
McAdoo gets a step, but Len stays in close enough guarding position to make a play on the ball even though he doesn’t have the angle. McAdoo misses the shot, and Maryland grabs the board.
A couple other notes that I compiled from watching the entire game:
-His positioning on defensive rebounds is inconsistent. I suspect this is a problem for many college big men who are used to relying solely on their height and size to get the job done. We saw it plenty last year with Tyler Zeller in his rookie campaign. Len did post very good rebounding numbers for his minutes played, including a 13.2% offensive rebounding percentage, good for 63rd in the nation. At that next level, he’ll have to put his body into his man more often than he does now.
-When the double team came in the post, Len was a willing passer to open perimeter teammates.
-It’s hard to tell his defensive instincts because of the zone, but he seems to be an alert defender. I didn’t notice his man burning him for alley-oops, dunks, etc., and he got his hands on a couple of steals in this game.
-I think it’ll be interesting to see what he could do in a pick-and-roll offense that allows him to post up more than he did at Maryland. He seemed to operate from elbow to elbow at the high post at least 75-80% of the time.
-The injury certainly complicates things for Len. The stress fracture in his left ankle and surgery will sideline him for all draft workouts and an additional 4-6 months. That puts him in jeopardy of not being ready for the start of the regular season. We’ve been through big man injuries before with Brad Daugherty and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. We saw what happened to Greg Oden and Yao Ming. It’s risky business, but if you hit on a guy that can score from the 5 position like Len can, it’s a game-changer.
-I’d be hesitant to take Len if the Cavs nab a top 3 pick. Maybe in the 4-6 range it’s worth the risk, depending on who else is left. If he falls to 10 or later in the lottery, I would consider putting together a package to try and move back up to get him, however.
That’s all for now. Until next time, the NBA Draft film room is closed!