I remain unconvinced by the argument that the 2013 draft is historically bereft of talent. I think the meme that has seemingly defined the draft thus far -- that an athletic shot-blocker with a torn ACL (Nerlens Noel) could go No. 1 means the entire draft itself is awful -- misses the point in a variety of ways.
That doesn't mean there are 10 franchise-changing stars in this year's haul, but there are a handful of good pros, if not more -- Noel, Anthony Bennett, Ben McLemore, Otto Porter, Victor Oladipo -- plus plenty of intriguing players (like C.J. McCollum and Jamaal Franklin, to name a couple favorites) littered throughout. It's not a great draft, but we're not talking about Stromile Swift at No. 1 here. This isn't 2000.
With that said, here comes the kicker: Alex Len might go No. 1 in this year's draft.
In his latest mock draft, Chad Ford notes that while Cleveland is still heavy on Noel at No. 1, strong competition has emerged in the form of Len, who is seen as more polished offensively, and thus more likely to fit in a pick-and-pop game with Cavs star guard Kyrie Irving. Draft Express recently moved Len to the top of its prospect rankings. New Orleans Times-Picayune writer Jimmy Smith tweeted Monday that Len was now the "likely choice" for the Cavs at No. 1. Sheridan Hoops has this:
Recent buzz out of Cleveland has centered around Alex Len, Anthony Bennett, and Ben McLemore as targets Cavs GM Chris Grant has started to re-examine. It appears Grant might pass on Noel, who has loads of upside but is very raw offensively and likely won’t play his first NBA game until at least January 2014.
All season long Len has intrigued Cavs executive Zydrunas Ilgauskas with his skills, length, and upside. It appears Ilgauskas may be swaying others in Cleveland to join him on Len’s bandwagon.
First of all, I can't believe I didn't know Zydrunas Ilgauskus was a member of the Cavs' front office. But he is indeed, an assistant general manager, and apparently one with enough juice to exert some form of pressure on the organization to draft his preferred player.
Should we be surprised by Len's sudden ascension? It's not hard to figure out why NBA scouts would love him: He's a legitimate 7-footer who scores around the basket and blocks shots, with the added benefit of great footwork and hands and a childhood background in gymnastics, which must go some way toward easing a GM's tension of drafting any big man with injury concerns. Len was solid for the Terps as a sophomore; he rebounded well, scored efficiently, and blocked a boatload of shots.
Len has always had the NBA on his horizon. In this sense, no, it's not surprising. But considering how so-so Maryland was last season, how little love Len got in end-of-the-year award voting, and how much attention has been paid to other top-five draft picks, seeing Len not only among that group, but in serious contention to go No. 1 overall is jarring, isn't it?
Every year, the NBA emphasizes the divide between what we see on college courts and what scouts project for the next five to 10 years. This might not be the most extreme example, but it is an example nonetheless. This draft could be wild.