Amongst the chaotic Maryland offense with no true point guard and an inability amongst the guards to make simple entry passes, Alex Len was the bright spot, despite his season being pegged as underwhelming by some. Many other supporters of him, however, insist that his struggles in his sophomore season were largely due to the poor spacing and underwhelming guards of the Maryland offense. Len put on 25 pounds and showed a marked improvement in his sophomore year. He showed his potential as a solid two-way center, and this is exactly what the newly named New Orleans Pelicans need in their front-court alongside the extremely talented Anthony Davis.
Len’s physical attributes are what really sets him apart in this draft class from other big men. He is 7’1 with a 7’4 wingspan with exceptional mobility and agility at his size. His frame at this size is also sufficient and he has already shown the ability to add weight. He plays above the rim and is reasonably athletic. His athleticism meshes extremely well with his size, making him a tantalizing prospect physically.
Offensively, Len has many skills that many at his size do not possess. He has a diverse offensive repertoire with the ability to score in the low block and finish explosively of the pick and roll (1.02 points per posession according to Draft Express). He is also a great passer out of double teams (1.19 PPP when doubled also according to DX). He has the ability to run the floor and finish in transition as well. His overall finishing ability is top notch as he shot 65% at the rim. Much of this can be attributed to the ability he showed to get offensive rebounds using his exceptional length (averaged 4.3 per 40 min). He has good enough range on his jump-shot to be effective on the pick and pop (though he only shot 36.1% off catch and shoot) at the next level as well as a solid face up game. Overall, while Len can be considered unpolished on the offensive end, he has unique skills to build on that can make him a very good offensive player.
Len has also been lauded for his defensive potential. As a defensive rebounder, Len can box out and has good enough lower body strength to be able to keep his position down low. His frame combined with this lower body strength makes him an ideal defender ins low post isolations, though he isn’t as polished in this aspect of his game as many would expect him to be. In today’s NBA, however, it is all about the pick and roll, and fortunately, Len has tremendous potential in this area. His exceptional lateral quickness gives him the valuable ability to hedge and recover quickly on pick and rolls. If he is required to sink into the paint in soft pick and roll coverage, his length makes him a great shot-blocker (3.1 blocks per 40 according to DX). As you may tell, he has flashed ability as a remarkable rim protector as opponents only shot 29% at the rim in his vicinity per DX. Taking into account what he has flashed and the ability to further improve, Len has excellent defensive upside.
For all this potential and two-way ability, Alex Len has a considerable amount of work to do to improve his game on both ends of the floor and be able to hang with NBA big men. As said before, though he has the physical ability to be a good post defender, he is not close to polished in this area. He often allowed smaller bigs to easily establish position on him and allowed easy catches down low. For someone at his size combined with his mobility, he does not give consistent effort on the defensive end, which is part of why he allowed such easy catches down low. He has a tendency to be disinterested and does not always get back in transition, due mostly to loss of focus. Offensively, while he has a relatively advanced skill-set in the post, he often does not know how to use it. He isn’t very efficient on post ups (38.1% out of the post, only 0.815 PPP per DX) and does not react well to defenses. He’ll often force a difficult shot or settle for a jumper when he has the opportunity to get himself an easier shot. He also lacks skill with his off hand, and his footwork is mediocre. Len is far from perfect as a prospect and his weaknesses are such that there is a high probability that he will take a long time to develop.
All of these weaknesses are magnified when considering the fact that he is coming off a stress fracture in his ankle, a lingering injury that can be extremely alarming for big men. If the injury affects him more than we think, he could potentially lose some of the mobility that made him stand out so much as a prospect. Len’s unfortunate setback adds to his already alarming weaknesses. It is is only going to add to the amount of risk associated with him as a prospect.
These risks however, can be masked in a situation that is perfect for him in New Orleans. The Pelicans are a rebuilding team that are headed in the right direction, and drafted one of the best big man prospects in years last season. Len will have the opportunity to gradually learn the nuances of the game, possibly playing behind current starting center Robin Lopez and playing with another solid front-court man off the bench in Ryan Anderson. Playing with Anthony Davis, who showed much ability last year will help him grow as a player. One of the biggest complaints Terrapin fans had is the mediocre guard play in Maryland. Len would often be unable to receive a post entry pass because he had no true point guard on his team to give him one. While many bloggers and writers have been skeptical of fellow Maryland alumni Grievis Vasquez as a long term starter in this league, his passing ability far surpasses that of any of the guards Maryland had last year and he will give Len more opportunities to succeed. While Len may take a long time to develop, the Pelicans have enough time to help him do so, and if he is able to successfully reach his potential, a front-court of Len and Davis could soon terrorize the rest of the league.