Is Alex Len Phoenix's next big thing?
I've got my clipboard out once again, and it's time to assess the effectiveness of the Suns' choices throughout the draft. Stocked with three selections—No. 5, No. 29, No. 57—Phoenix was in position to capitalize on the benefits of tanking for a full season.
New general manager Ryan McDonough (formerly a basketball executive with the Boston Celtics) stepped right in and made the second-most controversial lottery pick behind Cleveland's choice of Anthony Bennett first overall. Was his first big decision more bold than shrewd?
Now that the draft is behind us and free agency has officially begun (cue a never-ending stream of Dwight Howard SportsCenter clips), the Suns are officially out of last season's nightmare and at the start of a new chapter.
Will any of the three young men McDonough elected to draft eventually lead Phoenix back to playoff contention?
No. 5 Overall: Alex Len, C, Maryland
Finding success in the NBA draft is all about taking advantage of situational opportunities. Alex Len had a stellar season at Maryland and was considered a potential top-five pick. His predraft rating certainly had him among the best prospects available.
However, Phoenix made a mistake by selecting Len when its turn came around.
Why? Both Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel and Kansas winger Ben McLemore were still on the board.
McDonough must have seen something he really like about Len, because drafting the sophomore center out of Maryland was a confident move with more highly acclaimed talent still available. Noel was many times ranked as the most talented player in the draft and McLemore the best to fill Phoenix's needs as a scoring two guard.
So what came over GM McDonough? Maybe it was the fact that veteran center Marcin Gortat only has one year left on his contract and Len will soon fill his role, this year or next. Gortat has turned in quality minutes over his three-year Phoenix career, averaging double digits in scoring and over 8.5 rebounds each year.
Maybe the selection came with the logic that the talent pool for true centers is far shallower than any other position in the NBA. Only a handful of 7-footers are the centerpiece of their franchise, and fewer still have reached NBA greatness in that role.
As you can see, Len's upside includes a nose for the offensive rebound, relentless activity in the paint and good-enough post moves.
Whatever the reasoning may have been on draft night, Len's portfolio at Maryland was not eye-raising enough to warrant him skipping past Noel or McLemore on the Suns' draft-day depth chart. The big man posted season averages of 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, but isn't a particularly effective free-throw shooter and didn't even lead his team to the NCAA tournament. The Terrapins finished 8-10 in ACC play.
While the Suns' selection of Alex Len was a head-scratcher, it managed to remain slightly incognito as a result of Cleveland's big splash with Bennett at the top of the draft. I think Len will turn in good numbers—especially when he earns a starter's minutes—but may be a bit of a disappointment as far as lottery decisions go.
Draft Grade: B
No. 29 Overall: Archie Goodwin, SG, Kentucky
The Suns moved up from No. 30 overall to snag Archie Goodwin at the 29 spot, massaging the complete train wreck that they currently employ at shooting guard. Seriously, Shannon Brown and Wesley Johnson are not gonna cut it.
Goodwin is no doubt a talented player. The only problem with the pick is that he was not the best shooting guard available to Phoenix in the draft. Ben McLemore was the right fit for the Suns' positional needs, and the franchise opted for size instead of sweet-shooting perimeter talent.
That makes the selection of Archie in the later half of the first round look a bit more like a consolation prize than a feature that the Suns will look to rebuild a contender with.
If you ask me, Goodwin isn't such a bad consolation prize. The former freshman was a 5-star recruit, according to Rivals.com, and still has potential to pack muscle onto his lengthy frame. The 6'5" youngster brings a well-rounded offensive attack and has the quickness and arm length to disrupt ball-handlers off the dribble.
Goodwin is strong attacking the basket and can finish well above the rim. He has good body control and stop-and-start ability, which when fully developed could turn him into a devastating scorer off the dribble. His step-back jumper and jump-stop remind me of a less sharp Dwyane Wade.
In order for the Suns' selection of Goodwin to achieve full value, Len must perform well at the start of his career in Phoenix. Otherwise, Goodwin's early career will be complicated by comparisons to Ben McLemore and what the Suns could have had instead.
How will the 18-year-old handle the pressures of a young NBA career?
Draft Grade: B+
No. 57 Overall: Alex Oriakhi, PF/C, Missouri
Taking a look at the Phoenix Suns' 2013 depth chart (seriously, I encourage it for a good laugh) reveals that the squad had no real identity or star to build around. All positions need work.
In McDonough's first year as GM, he elected to add more size than athleticism to the roster. At 6'9" and 255 pounds, expect Oriakhi to throw his young body around in the paint and collect rebounds.
After all, that was his forte during his collegiate career at UConn and later Mizzou. He drastically improved his free-throw shooting in 2013, increasing his average from 56.9 percent to 74.6 percent in his third season. Further, Oriakhi showed off the ability to use his body to get inside position and score around the rim, evidenced by his shooting percentage of 63.9.
Given that the Suns appeared to need a bit more help in the backcourt, it was mildly surprising to see management opt to bolster the size on the roster. Oriakhi didn't crack Chad Ford's two-round mock draft (subscription required) just prior to Thursday night and obviously has some proving to do.
I don't mind the pick here by the Suns, who believe that their NBA-acclaimed training staff will work out how to maximize the big bodies McDonough brought in via the draft. Oriakhi won't have to deal with the same pressures as Len or Goodwin, and could develop well in a reserve role as soon as next season.
Even still, how much value can a team find with a late second-rounder? The answer remains to be seen.
Draft Grade: C+