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It’s safe to say the choice of Alex Len at fifth overall wasn’t particularly popular when David Stern announced Phoenix’s first draft decision.
With Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore—arguably the two best players in this draft—miraculously still available for the Suns at pick No. 5, the choice appeared to be a two-horse race.
The Suns have been desperate for a wing scoring option who can create his own shot and put up points in bulk. McLemore would have been perfect to fill that void as a prospect with All-Star potential and a flawless shooting stroke.
Phoenix has also been lacking an interior defensive presence seemingly since the inception of the franchise. Having averaged 4.4 blocks per game as a freshman at Kentucky, Noel was widely regarded as the best defender in the draft class.
Although Noel is a tantalizing prospect with huge potential, the Suns reportedly red-flagged the Kentucky Wildcat because of concerns about his surgically repaired knee, according to NBADraft.net via Twitter.
Considering the Suns have the best training staff in all of basketball, it’s easy to trust their judgment regarding injuries. If Noel returns to form and starts making NBA All-Star teams, though, the Suns’ reputation will take a hit for passing on him.
Noel was evidently passed on due to injury concerns, but that fails to justify the team’s decision to scoff at McLemore's availability.
The Suns essentially have no options at shooting guard moving forward (unless Archie Goodwin is given that job as an 18-year-old rookie). Wesley Johnson is set to hit free agency following a year in which he shot a vastly underwhelming 40.7 percent from the field. Meanwhile, Shannon Brown’s contract for next season is not guaranteed, so he could be out the door following a disappointing year spent in and out of the playing rotation.
The Suns decided to pass on two potential NBA All-Stars, but it appears they got the guy they wanted all along.
When Coach Hornacek met with the media to discuss the draft, he said the following:
Well I think it started with the first pick of the draft. When Anthony Bennett went first, I think everybody in the room was excited and thinking, ‘Hey, the guy that we have ranked highest on our board may end up getting there.’ And that’s exactly what happened with Alex.
So according to the team’s new head coach, Len was the guy they wanted from the outset. His career will undoubtedly be compared to those of McLemore and Noel moving forward (for good reason), but at least the franchise is confident with the young center.
Of course, this could very well mean the end of days for Marcin Gortat in Phoenix. Logically speaking, a spot should be opened for the rookie so he can get acclimated to the NBA. If McDonough doesn’t have a trade lined up to get assets for Gortat, taking Len makes far less sense.
Suns fans also can’t ignore the fact that the fifth overall pick didn’t make Maryland a highly competitive team. The Terrapins failed to make the NCAA tournament in 2013, finishing 8-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Maryland did make a run in the NIT, but Len posted pedestrian averages of 11 points and seven rebounds per game in the tournament.
In addition, Len wasn’t selected to the All-ACC first, second or third team. It’s remarkable that Hornacek would also call the pick “a no-brainer” given that disconcerting bit of information.
Len will be compared with McLemore and Noel throughout his entire career now, and unless the Suns move Gortat, it’s hard to see the youngster getting much playing time next season. If Phoenix can get a good trade haul for Gortat, then this pick will look much better.