The majority of mock drafts around the country still have the Cavaliers taking Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday, but Sheridan Hoops expert Joe Kotoch insists Cleveland has settled on Maryland center Alex Len.
“Alex Len is the center most ready to make an impact from the moment the season begins,” Kotoch said Monday of the 7-foot-1, 255-pounder. “He’s the most balanced center in the draft. He has NBA size, he’s got great footwork and offensively he’s very versatile and can do a lot of things.
“He’s still a quality rebounder and shot blocker. Maybe not to the extent of Noel (in those categories), but he’s going to give you more offensively than Noel.”
Despite all that praise, Len averaged just 11.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 2.1 blocks as a Maryland sophomore. He shot .534 from the field and .686 at the line in 26.4 minutes per game.
Scouts and front office types that like Len attribute his mediocre numbers to the fact he played for a Maryland team that didn’t have a quality point guard and failed to get him the ball enough.
Detractors say the Ukraine native, who turned 20 on June 16, coasted at times in college.
“That’s a fair question,” Kotoch said when asked about Len’s desire on the court. “There were a lot of people watching him that felt he could have done much better in terms of taking games over with his skill set.
“The bottom line is he didn’t have a great point guard or cast around him. That was a contributing factor. You pair him with (Cleveland’s) Kyrie Irving, there’s a very good chance he’s going to make a significant improvement.”
Len met with the Cavs last week, but was unable to work out because he’s recovering from a stress fracture in his ankle. That injury, however, seems to be a lesser concern than Noel’s second serious knee injury, which is expected to sideline him until Christmas.
“I don’t think Len’s foot injury is an issue at all,” said Kotoch, a Rocky River resident.
In addition to Len and Noel, other players rumored to have a chance of going No. 1 to the Cavs are Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore, Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo, UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett and Georgetown small forward Otto Porter.
Locally, the feeling seems to be that the Cavs have soured on Noel and will ultimately decide between Len and McLemore, but Kotoch said the latter’s stock went down after several bad workouts, including one in Cleveland.
Kotoch is also of the opinion that Porter would be a good fit for the Cavs, who need a small forward, but he doesn’t see the team taking the Georgetown product unless it trades down.
“I do think they will try to trade this pick right up until draft night,” Kotoch said of the Cavs. “I’m just skeptical they’ll find what they want.”
Like Len, Noel was in town visiting with the Cavs last week and recently told the Courier-Journal in Louisville that three doctors, including one affiliated with Cleveland, were impressed with his recovery from ACL surgery.
“The doctor said everything was perfect,” Noel said. “All three teams I’ve been to said (the knee) looks 100 percent fine and I’m definitely ahead of schedule. It’s all been positive feedback.”
After being measured at 6-11¾ and weighing just 206 pounds at the NBA Draft Combine in May, Noel’s weight is reportedly up to 220. Among respected national mock drafts, he remains the favorite to be taken by the Cavs with the first pick.
Kotoch, however, is confident the Cavs will take Len, whom he compared to a young Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The 7-3 Ilgauskas, a Lithuania native, now works in the Cavs front office and is the franchise’s all-time leader in games played.
In addition, Vitaly Potapenko, a Ukraine native picked No. 12 by Cleveland in the same 1996 draft that Ilgauskas was chosen at No. 20, has been hired as one of head coach Mike Brown’s assistants.
“Alex Len is probably the best fit for the Cavs in terms of all the bigs,” Kotoch said. “He’s probably not as good as a young Ilgauskas at this point, but he reminds me a lot of him with his footwork and skills in the lane.”
Kotoch wouldn’t go so far as to guarantee Len would become an immediate starter, but did say he expected him to move into that spot at some point early in his career.
If the Cavs do take Len — or Noel, for that matter — they will have a crowd in the middle, where oft-injured veteran Anderson Varejao and second-year man Tyler Zeller are also present.
Most likely, Varejao would once again be mentioned in numerous trade rumors.
“I tend to believe they view Varejao as the starter today,” Kotoch said. “But if they added Alex Len, at some point I would expect him to be the starter.”
The Cavs hired B.J. Evans, who most recently worked for the Charlotte Bobcats, as director of basketball communications. The team also announced that Jeff Schafer was promoted to basketball communications manager.
• The Cavs will host a draft party at Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday. Doors will open at 6 p.m. Hot dogs and sodas will be $1 and analysis will be provided by Cavs announcers John Michael, Jim Chones, Austin Carr and Campy Russell. Free tickets are available at The Q box office or online at cavs.com. Fans 16 and under must be accompanied by an adult.
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