Alex Len Makes Sense as No. 1 Pick for Cleveland Cavaliers

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistJune 22, 2013

Apr 2, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Maryland Terrapins center Alex Len (25) puts up a shot against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the first half of the NIT Tournament Semi-Final at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The more you look at the possibility of the Cleveland Cavaliers taking Maryland center Alex Len with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2013 NBA draft, the more it grows on you. 

When Jimmy Smith of the New Orleans Times-Picayune first tweeted out that Len is considered by some as the Cavs' "likely" choice at No. 1, it sent shock waves throughout the media. 

After all, Len hasn't even been considered to be the best center in the draft. That distinction has belonged to Kentucky star Nerlens Noel. The shot-blocker extraordinaire has been the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in this year's draft since he was a senior in high school. 

However, Len, who is a much more polished product on the offensive side of the ball, has reportedly caught the eye of Cavs executive Zydrunas Ilgauskas, per Sheridan Hoops

According to sources, Cleveland has been warming to Alex Len as concerns about Nerlens Noel’s knee and whether he is the best fit longterm alongside Kyrie Irving have increased.

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has come out publicly saying the playoffs are the team’s goal for next season, and with Noel’s recovery from an ACL injury likely to bleed into the first few months of the regular season, the Cavs might be cooling on that option.  Cleveland executive Zyndrunas Ilgauskas also has been one of Len’s biggest fans, perhaps seeing some of himself in Len.

The pick is obviously a risky one for two reasons. 

First, taking a big man with the first overall pick is always dangerous. The list of big men taken with the first pick in the last 10 years includes the likes of Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis, but it also includes Greg Oden and Andrew Bogut.

The upside here is that Ilgauskas is a fan of Len. As Cavs fans know, Big Z knows a thing or two about being an offensive big man. He's not actually a coach, but the two-time All-Star could certainly go a long way in mentoring Len as he adjusts to the NBA game. 

The second concern is that as much as Len may remind some of Ilgauskas for his offensive prowess, they also share something else in common—the potential to miss time due to injury. 

Ilgauskas dealt with injuries throughout much of his career as a Cavalier. The Lithuanian missed the entire 2000 season and once broke his foot four times in five years.

Len has been forced to miss out on all pre-draft activities because of a stress fracture in his left ankle, per ESPN's Andy Katz.

There's no getting around this risk; however, it could be worse. The alternative, as far as centers go, is to take Nerlens Noel. As Chris Sheridan said when talking about the Cavs' interest in Len, he won't be available for the first few months of the season.

The final issue for the Cavs is that while a big man of the future would be a nice asset, the team has a desperate need for a small forward. With Otto Porter and Anthony Bennett available, is Len really the best pick?

The answer is yes. Provided the Cavs still address the need at small forward in the draft.

If the latest buzz around the league is any indication, they could do just that. According to Chris Sheridan, the Cavs are engaged in serious discussions with the Dallas Mavericks to obtain the No. 13 pick and Shawn Marion in exchange for the No. 19 pick and potentially picks 31 and 33. 

Pro Basketball Draft has tweeted a similar report, noting that the likely target for Cleveland would be Russian small forward prospect Sergey Karasev. 

If the reports turn out to be true, it would be a huge deal for Cleveland. The Cavs will be taking advantage of the Mavericks' desire to clear out cap space by absorbing Marion's $9.3 million dollar salary next season, while still picking up the small forward of the future in Karasev. 

The best part is that Marion isn't simply a bloated contract. He'll be overpaid, sure, but he's actually an upgrade over Alonzo Gee and the perfect stopgap at the position while Karasev develops overseas for another year. 

Here's a look at how Marion and Gee stacked up last year. 

If the Cavaliers can address the need at small forward for next season with Marion and in the long term with Karasev, then by all means they should go for a franchise center. If they happen to believe that Len can be that foundational piece in the middle, then he makes the most sense for them at the top of the draft.