Seen as the expected No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA draft, Kentucky center Nerlens Noel is hobbled with a torn ACL and doesn't have much meat on his bones, so it's only natural that other options start asserting themselves as candidates to go first overall.
Ben McLemore was a recent challenger to Noel's perch above the rest of the draft class, but now it's Alex Len's turn to steal the spotlight.
According to Hoopsworld's Steve Kyler, the Cavs want a player who can compete right away, and that's deterring them from settling on the flat-topped Kentucky big man:
Hearing that Cavs management can do what they want with draft and free agency but must make the playoffs.— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) June 9, 2013
“@kennethmacleod: Does that make Noels at number 1 highly unlikely now if the Cavs keep the pick?” ---> very much so.— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) June 9, 2013
Meanwhile, Len has become increasingly vocal about his ability to make a name for himself in the NBA. As relayed by The News-Herald's Bob Finnan, the Maryland product believes that he'll be the best player in this draft 10 years down the road.
Okay. Fine. I don't particularly agree with Len's long-term assessment of himself, especially as he also compares his game to Zydrunas Ilgauskas', but that's irrelevant at the moment.
Something about this just doesn't add up. The Cavs want a player who can help them advance to the postseason for the first time in the post-LeBron James era, and Len is going to be great in a decade. According to himself.
Those don't exactly sync up, seeing as the next postseason takes place in 2014, not 2023.
Len is indeed a prospect with upside in the future, but he's not ready to be a difference-maker during his rookie season. He still needs to improve his defense and rebounding while developing more offensive consistency.
There's absolutely no chance that Len can supplant Anderson Varejao in the Cleveland starting five, so why not just draft upside here?
Noel's frame indicates that he'll fill out and weigh significantly more than 206 pounds during his NBA prime, and he already has one elite skill: his knack for protecting the rim. Even though he's coming off knee surgery, he's a safer pick than Len simply because he's going to be—at worst—a valuable starter down the road.
Len could end up being a similar player to Robin Lopez, a center who's worth having in the rotation but shouldn't really be a starter on any competitive team.
You know who could end up taking over for Varejao during his rookie season? Noel.
The big man's knee is expected to hold him out of action until Christmas, but that leaves a large portion of the season to play. Even if it takes him a while to return to full strength, his defense would still be quite valuable in the rotation, especially with Tristan Thompson's nose for boards slightly marginalizing Varejao's own rebounding skills.
While the Cavs hold onto the No. 1 pick, thinking about Len going No. 1 is nonsensical. If they really want to improve their playoff chances, they'd either draft Otto Porter, select Ben McLemore or trade the top selection for an established professional player.
And if the rumor that it's playoffs or bust is proven to be bogus, drafting Noel still makes significantly more sense than taking a guy who believes he could develop into Ilgauskas.
Here's a tip for you Alex. If you're going to compare yourself to an established NBA player, think big. It's our job to make the realistic comparisons, as B/R's Jonathan Wasserman does in the above video. It's your goal to make yourself look good.
Don't roll with a guy who made two All-Star games in his prime, especially when those selections will leave future basketball-watchers scratching their heads in confusion as they struggle to figure out the basis for selection.
Ilgauskas was a great player during his late 20s, but he was never a transcendent, franchise-altering presence. Even if he's an accurate comparison, you want to think big.
Len's status isn't something that's going to change in the weeks leading up to the draft because of his own injury. It's received significantly less attention than Noel's ACL tear because the rehab isn't as grueling and the injury isn't as glamorous, but Len's stress fracture in his left ankle is detrimental to his draft stock in its own right.
Would you draft Alex Len at No. 1?
The Maryland big doesn't have the ability to work out for teams, so he's left to trying to impress them with his words and smarts. That only offers him a certain level of upward mobility, which is rather problematic when you're trying to move up into the No. 1 spot.
If Cleveland is truly looking at Len, it's only for the sake of due diligence. The No. 1 pick is a valuable asset and it must be treated as such. All options should be explored.
But as for the 7'1" 19-year-old following in Anthony Davis' footprints as the top selection in the NBA draft? That's only happening if Cleveland goes crazy or decides to trade the pick to a team with a similar lack of talent for evaluating prospects.