Most draft prospects still have nearly seven weeks left to make their cases in workouts with teams, but the book on Maryland center Alex Len is as complete as it's going to be. Len is out for four to six months with a stress fracture in his left ankle, leaving him without a chance to prove he's worthy of the No. 1 pick. As it is, he appears destined for the middle of the lottery, with Chad Ford of ESPN.com and Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress agreeing he's the seventh-best prospect available.
The 19-year-old Ukraine native is a raw talent, and there will be plenty of risk involved in taking him, particularly given his injury. He could nonetheless wind up as a steal, and was in the conversation as a potential top overall selection at times this season. That kind of talk started when he opened the season with 23 points and 12 rebounds, both career highs at the time, in a highly anticipated matchup against Kentucky center Nerlens Noel.
Previously, he had been considered a fringe lottery pick. There were questions entering this season about his strength, as well as his poor free-throw shooting and propensity for fouls and turnovers. He showed up after last summer with added muscle, and answered critics with fewer fouls and turnovers per minute this year, as well as a markedly better performance at the free-throw line. He went from 59% at the stripe his freshman season to 69% as a sophomore this year. He did so in nearly twice as many attempts per game, as Len became a much greater part of the Maryland offense.
He still averaged only 8.5 field goal attempts per outing this season, a jump from 4.3 in a relatively similar amount of playing time last year, but still not as many as his talents suggest he should have taken. Len possesses a legitimate post-up game, and it appeared Maryland coach Mark Turgeon's offensive system held him back, even as some scouts began to think toward the end of the season that Len might be better off staying for his junior year. He showed inconsistency against ACC competition and in the NIT, though his rebounding numbers were more or less the same throughout the season, save for back-to-back three-rebound performances in the first two rounds of the NIT.
Len responded with 13 rebounds in his next postseason contest, and finished the season with averages of 7.8 rebounds in 26.4 minutes per game. His work on the boards is not a question mark, and neither is his shot-blocking ability. At 7'1" with an even longer wingspan, he swatted away 2.1 shots on a nightly basis this season, mirroring his average as a freshman. His size, quickness and athleticism, as well as his touch as a finisher around the basket, make him a sought-after prospect.
There isn't a team out there that couldn't use a shot-blocking 7'1" center with a post game, but the team currently slotted to pick seventh is the Pistons, and they already have Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Len could give the Pelicans, targeted for the No. 5 spot, an impressive one-two punch inside with Anthony Davis, and the same could be said of the Blazers and LaMarcus Aldridge if Len drops to their current position at 10th overall. The Kings could draft Len sixth overall and put pressure on DeMarcus Cousins to perform, while the Timberwolves, in line for the ninth pick, could take Len as insurance in case a team throws an inflated offer at restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic.
Minnesota, though, has expectations of becoming a playoff team next season, and that could dissuade them from picking Len. Despite his impressive potential, he remains a work in progress, and appears best suited for a team that's willing to be patient.