July 24, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Cavs draft picks: Len getting mentions for No. 1 pick

Editor’s note: The following is the second of four stories examining players the Cavaliers might select with the first pick in the NBA Draft.

Nothing is set in stone, but right now Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel appears to be the favorite to be taken by the Cavaliers with the No. 1 pick in the June 27 NBA Draft.

There have been rumors the Cavs secretly covet Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo, and Cleveland taking Kansas two-guard Ben McLemore or Georgetown small forward Otto Porter is also not out of the question.

Maryland center Alex Len, a Ukraine native who reminds some scouts of former Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, has a chance of going to Cleveland with the first pick in the NBA Draft. (AP PHOTO)

Now throw another name into the mix, as Maryland center Alex Len is also a possibility.

Actually, Len might be more than a possibility, as Sheridan Hoops draft expert Joe Kototch recently revamped his mock draft and now has the Cavs taking the Ukraine native No. 1.

“If someone was drafted first other than Nerlens Noel, I would say it’s probably Len,” Kotoch said. “If you look at the position and the ability to make an impact, Len has prototypical size and a skill set that makes him an impact player.”

The 7-foot-1, 255-pound Len has drawn some comparisons to former Cavs center Zyrunas Ilgauskas, a 7-3 Lithuania native who still works in the organization’s front office.

Len will probably be stronger than Ilgauskas and could develop better low-post, back-to-the-basket skills, but right now he’s not as good a shooter from the perimeter.

“You’ve got to like the size,” Kotoch said. “He’s going to have an impact on both ends of the court.

“He made dramatic improvement from his freshman to sophomore season. He increased his scoring average without a good point guard or any help from his team as far as getting him easy opportunities.”

Len, who turned 20 on Sunday, is unable to work out for NBA teams due to surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left ankle.

He was suspended for 10 games as a Maryland freshman because of questions surrounding his amateur status, then averaged 6.0 points and 5.4 rebounds in a shade over 21 minutes a game in 2011-12.

Despite playing on a team that didn’t utilize his offensive talents nearly enough, Len averaged 11.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in a little over 25 minutes a game as a sophomore. He shot .534 from the field and .686 at the line.

Opinions about his work ethic and long-term potential, however, are not unanimous.

“This is a tough one,” said Ryan Blake, the NBA’s senior director of scouting. “The kid has loads of talent and he can play, but he floated a little bit during the season.

“He’s tall and he can pass the ball — he didn’t get a lot of touches at Maryland — so he’s someone you’ve got to look at. He’s very skilled on both ends of the floor. It would have been good to see him work harder, but it’s hard to pass up someone with that type of talent.”

If the Cavs don’t go big with the first pick — or if they trade down a bit and take someone like Oladipo, McLemore or Porter — they will still have plenty of opportunities to add size with the 19th overall pick or in the second round, where they have the 31st and 33rd selections overall.

Though the 2013 draft is considered weak overall, there are a lot of intriguing big men who could be, at the least, decent backups at power forward and center.

Indiana sophomore Cody Zeller, the younger brother of Cavs center Tyler Zeller, and Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk will likely go in the top 15, while a half-dozen other big men could go later in the first round or in the second.

“Olynyk is more of an all-purpose power forward, but he’ll be able to play a little bit of center in today’s NBA,” Blake said. “Cody Zeller, I really like. He’s a better shooter than he was able to show at Indiana.”

Other players to keep an eye on are Louisville’s Gorgui Deng — “He’s so smart,” Blake said — and Pittsburgh’s Steven Adams.

“Potentially, he can be really, really good, but he’s still got a lot to prove,” Blake said of Adams. “I’m worried about his confidence.”

Duke’s Mason Plumlee and Kansas’ Jeff Withey are also in the mix, while France’s Rudy Gobert, though extremely raw, is projected to go in the top 20 by many experts.

“We don’t have the prototype 7-2 Roy Hibbert or 7-foot Dwight Howard much these days,” Blake said. “What you do have in this draft are players who can play in the post and are versatile.”

Next: Georgetown small forward Otto Porter.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.