Nerlens Noel has been the presumptive favorite at No. 1 in the 2013 NBA draft, but a changing of the guard—err...changing of the center?—has resulted in Alex Len storming to the forefront of the draft conversation and becoming the most overrated prospect in the class.
The Maryland product has enjoyed a rather interesting path to the NBA. Eligibility issues kept him from making too much of a name for himself as a freshman, but he burst onto the scene as a sophomore. The rise has been meteoric ever since.
Len was viewed as a fringe NBA player back in 2012, first creeping into mock drafts during the early and middle portion of the year. He was listed at No. 25 and No. 36 during his first two appearances in DraftExpress' mock drafts. But as he broke out during his sophomore season, most notably when he got the better of Duke's Mason Plumlee, he rose rather quickly.
Now, the Cleveland Cavaliers are looking to take him at No. 1, according to a number of sources. First is The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto:
1. For weeks, I have been writing that the Cavs are looking hard at other players besides Nerlens Noel at No. 1, and nothing has changed on that front. Noel scares them because of the knee issues, along with concerns about his absolute lack of offense. Two knee surgeries in four years for a player who is only 18 should be a major warning siren. It would be a shock if they made him their No. 1 pick.
2. If the Cavs draft a big man, it will be Maryland center Alex Len. He's 7-1, 255 pounds and looks and moves like an NBA center. He's 21, but has a stress fracture in his foot. Maybe he'll be fine, but big men with stress fractures in their feet are a worry. Cavs fans remember the ordeal of Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
HOOPSWORLD's Alex Kennedy confirms this on Twitter:
Putting aside the fact that of course Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Lithuania) and Vitaly Potapenko (Ukraine) are pushing for the newest Ukrainian center to be drafted at No. 1, the rumor that the Cavs are interested in Len is a story that makes sense.
Problem is, the pick itself isn't one that makes sense for Cleveland.
Len deserves to be a lottery selection but he shouldn't be considered for the top overall pick in the draft. That alone is making him the most overrated prospect in this weak class. There may not be too many picks in between the No. 1 spot and where he should go (lets say No. 7 without team need coming into the equation), but there's an enormous gap in expectations.
According to my calculations, No. 1 picks are historically expected to earn 25.39 win shares over the first four years of their careers (the maximum length of a rookie contract). No. 7 picks are expected to earn 13.65, or 11.74 fewer than the top selection.
In terms of win shares, that's the same gap that exists between the No. 7 pick and the No. 49 selection.
Think about what that means.
If Len truly deserves to be picked at No. 7 and he goes No. 1, that's historically just as bad as a player who should be drafted in the second half of the second round being taken at No. 7.
With that out of the way, what actually makes Len overrated here?
Nerlens Noel isn't the only prospect dealing with a major injury. Alex Len has been on crutches and walking in an ankle boot as he attempts to recover from a stress fracture that he had surgery for back in May.
Torn ACLs are the more glamorous injuries, but stress fractures can be just as problematic. According to B/R's own injury expert Will Carroll, it's an injury that usually heals properly.
"Usually" is a key word here, as there have been incidents where players haven't fully recovered from stress fractures. And that normally happens to big men, who have more weight to carry around than guards and forwards.
If anyone should know this, it's Zydrunas Ilgauskas, one of the players pushing for Len as the No. 1 pick. Although he eventually regained his form and made two All-Star teams, the 7-footer took nearly two full seasons to recover from the stress fracture he suffered five games into the 1998-99 campaign.
Yao Ming is another player who had his career cut short by a stress fracture, so keep in mind that this can be a serious injury with long-term ramifications.
If anything, it's more concerning than a torn ACL, seeing as that's a complete fluke of an injury.
Lack of Production at Maryland
Usually, No. 1 picks dominate the ranks of collegiate basketball, putting up gaudy numbers and justifying their rise to the top of the boards.
Len dominated at Maryland, but only if you consider averaging 11.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.2 steals and 2.1 blocks per game "domination."
In 38 games, the 7'1" center topped 20 points just twice and broke into double-figures in the rebounding column eight times. Those two statistical achievements were mutually exclusive ones, and he actually recorded only six double-doubles as a sophomore. During the postseason, he even forgot how to rebound to a greater extent, save one 13-board outing against Alabama in the NIT.
The numbers simply aren't there, and that's due to two primary factors: (1) A certain level of rawness typically found in sushi and (2) Len's mentality.
The former Terrapin has a great deal of long-term upside but he's very much a work in progress. He's not particularly skilled in the post yet and often looks clumsy when he goes to work there. As for his jumper, well, let's not even talk about that since it usually doesn't exist.
Len's toughness and unwillingness to assert himself is an even bigger problem.
When he was able to seal off his man deep in the paint, Len still wouldn't demand the ball. He seemed content to let his teammates involve him as they pleased and he failed to show that killer mentality that results in NBA success.
To be fair, part of the problem was the quality of Len's teammates.
The guard play at Maryland was horrific, and every entry pass was just as likely to wind up in the hands of an opponent as it was in Len's. There also weren't many jump-shooting threats, so defenses could collapse around the big man and prevent him from having the time necessary to go to work.
That said, a truly dominant big man can carry a team. A future dominant big man still developing can at least put the team on his back for stretches.
The Terrapin backcourt can function as an excuse for Len's lack of production but it can't completely explain it. And do you really want to be making that type of excuse about a No. 1 pick?
Drafting For Talent
Len is not the most talented player in this draft.
Even though he has a great deal of long-term upside, Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke and Anthony Bennett all beat him out in that category.
A team like the Cleveland Cavaliers can't afford to spurn premier talent to draft for a need. Point guard is out of the question because there's already a superstar in place there, but the rest of the positions should be fair game. The only time a No. 1 pick should be selected because the team needs that position is if the franchise in question is a single piece away from truly contending for a title.
Cleveland is attempting to make the playoffs, not hold up the Larry O'Brien Trophy. As a result, the Cavs should still be seeking as much talent as possible.
Len should not be the answer, and the pursuit of the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference will take a step backward if the organization believes otherwise. McLemore, Porter and even Noel would be better selections when David Stern calls out the first name on June 27.
If Len does indeed go No. 1, he'll be overrated now and a draft bust down the road.
No one wants that, least of all the Cavs.