Cavaliers rumored to be targeting Alex Len at No. 1 overall
Having a promising young backcourt duo with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, the Cavaliers are expected to select a player who can improve their rebounding and shot blocking, in which they ranked 22nd and 29th this season. The common mock for Cleveland has been Kentucky's Nerlens Noel, who was the nation's top high school recruit a year ago and averaged an astounding 4.4 blocked shots per game during his only season at Kentucky.
Noel, however, is extremely raw offensively, making him far from a lock to be drafted first overall. In desperate need of frontcourt help, the Cavaliers will take a long look at every big man they could possibly go after with that top pick.
A name that has surfaced recently is Alex Len, the 7'1'' center from the University of Maryland. Jimmy Smith of the New Orleans Times-Picayune tweeted Tuesday that he has heard that Len is "now the likely choice for [the Cavaliers] at the No. 1 spot in next week's draft."
Len was a name that was picking up a ton of steam early in the pre-draft process, but has since fallen off due to a stress fracture in his ankle. Any team that drafts Len will be taking a risk, as there are many accounts of top big man prospects failing make an impact at the NBA level due to lower body injuries. Names like Greg Oden and Sam Bowie will have NBA executives wary of taking a player who currently has a stress fracture in his ankle.
That being said, Len has adamantly stated that he anticipates being all-systems-go when training camp begins in October. Len is also considered a much more polished offensive player than Noel, as he can knock down the jumper, has some solid moves in the post, has nice touch around the rim, and passes the ball well. He is not on the same level as Noel in the sense of shot blocking and rebounding, but he is solid in both areas and could improve a lot simply by becoming more aggressive. In addition, he is two inches taller than Noel.
Len going to the Cavaliers at No. 1 overall is nowhere near a sure thing, but it is definitely worth noting Smith's tweet considering the several advantages Len has over Noel. The Cavaliers could go after the player who is more likely to contribute on both ends of the floor, rather than a player whose potential is based largely on defensive prowess. Noel's 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 4.4 blocks last season were similar numbers to those of Hasheem Thabeet (13.6/10.8/4.2) during his final year at the University of Connecticut. Thabeet was a highly touted prospect due to his defensive dominance, but has been a bust since being drafted second overall in 2009.
I expect Noel to be a much better player than Thabeet, but the point is that if Noel can't make a significant impact on defense at the next level, he will likely be of little use to an NBA team. Len, on the other hand, has a good chance of making an impact on both ends of the floor, which may make him a more coveted prospect than Noel to some teams.
I still feel that Noel will be taken first overall. His defense is fantastic, and his toughness and determination can't be taught. He also has the athleticism to become a dangerous offensive transition weapon, and showed signs of offensive improvement during his one year at school. However, Len is still very much in play for the Cavaliers, and there are now rumors that he is the man Cleveland will target.