An advanced stats look at Alex Len’s low-post game

(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Should Alex Len decide to forgo two years of college eligibility and declare for the NBA draft, he will likely be among the top big men selected, a virtual lottery lock by most projections. Scouts love his athleticism and raw talent, particularly that feathery touch on mid-range jumpers.

“As far as the things that he would probably need to improve on,” said one Eastern Conference executive, speaking on condition of anonymity because of NBA policy, “Number one, I don’t think his body is quite ready to go up against NBA starting centers yet. I think that will be a big transition for him.”

That isn’t earth-shattering by any stretch. The sophomore has been as enigmatic as any Maryland player this season, often rotating between moments of dominating brilliance and total disappearing acts. He’s dominated future NBA draft picks such as Nerlens Noel and Mason Plumlee, but has had shots blocked by smaller rails like Eddie Odio and Boris Bojanovsky.

Advanced statistics back up the consensus eye test with Len: He’s an elite defender around the rim but struggles to score on post-up scenarios. For a 7-foot-1 center, Len shoots just 39.3 percent on post-ups (48 for 122), a very low percentage given that 41.2 percent of his possessions fall into that category.

(Side note: All this data comes courtesy of Synergy Sports, the excellent video scouting/logging service used by plenty of college and professional teams, including Maryland.)

Here’s the breakdown of Len’s play types this season, sorted by percentage. His  transition, spot-up, isolation, off-screen and miscellaneous plays all have fewer than 20 possessions, so these weren’t included:

lenpostupdata

So basically, Len’s least efficient move – catching the ball in the low post and making a move – is the one he does the most. The numbers vary slightly by location. He’s shooting 43.5 percent from the low block (0.919 points per possession, 44 percent of the time) and 41.4 percent from the right block (0.897 points per possession, 46.4 percent of the time), though he shoots a glaring 29.4 percent turning his right shoulder on the left block, which makes sense given that spinning toward the baseline from that spot creates an awkward shooting angle.

Some other interesting numbers to be culled from this data:

>> Of 432 possessions, Len attempted just 35 field goals off a pick-and-roll.

>> When Len spins to the middle from the left block and attempts a hook shot, he’s shooting just 4 for 13 (30.8 percent).

>> He’s excellent at getting to the foul line: 20 percent of post-ups and 23.5 percent of offensive rebounds result in trips to the stripes.

>> His “cuts” numbers make sense. Plenty of Len’s baskets come on dribble-penetration from Maryland’s guards, when Len slips to the basket for easy dunks.

>> Though Len has just 21 assists in the half-court offense this season, he boasts a 2.524 points-per-assist, a metric averaging the number of points a player scores when Len is the assist man. Again, this backs up the eye test, that Len is an above-average passer with solid court vision.

>> Len’s best value comes on defense. This isn’t surprising, given his selection to the all-ACC defensive team. Opponents are shooting 32.9 percent against Len when he’s the primary defender.

Len received a few days off between the Denver and Alabama games, so Coach Mark Turgeon figures he’ll be ready to bang against Iowa’s big men, particularly 7-1 freshman Adam Woodbury.

“Alex is fresh,” Turgeon said. “I gave him three days off, got a little slight ankle problem, so we gave him a lot of time off after the ACC tournament and then after the Denver game.”

As for his post moves, Len has made concentrated efforts to work with assistant coach Scott Spinelli and graduate assistant Ryan Richman, breaking down his moves in film and polishing them in practice. He’s handled double teams better in recent weeks, and his double-double at Alabama was arguably his best game since Maryland beat Duke at Comcast Center.

Ask Len what he’s improved upon most this season, and he’ll say defense. “Even help side,” Len said. “How to show on ball screens, little things that really matter.”

One teammate mentions something different.

“His competitive will,” Pe’Shon Howard said. “He just wants to win so bad every night, regardless of if he gets two shots or 10 or 12, he just wants to do what’s best for the team. He wants to do whatever it takes. If you have to dive on the floor five times and not shoot once, we just want each other to do well. I think Alex is doing well, he’s blocking shots, he’s getting rebounds. He’s never actually worried about scoring and stuff like that. He just takes what the game gives him.”

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