The world knew this was coming. Despite the inconsistencies and evidence that, sure, maybe Alex Len isn’t ready for the NBA right now, Maryland’s players, coaches and fans still operated under assumption that their sophomore center would bolt for lucrative professional waters once the season ended.
So now what?
Len’s departure, however expected, still leaves a void in the Terrapins’ front court, especially on defense around the rim. His 2.1 blocks per game ranked first in the ACC, and opponents shot less than 35 percent on post-up plays, per data from Synergy Sports. His 11.9 points per game can — and likely will — be replaced by committee. But how will Maryland handle the loss of a 7-foot-1 goalie hovering around the restriction area?
The Terps will have nine expected regulars on scholarship this season. Three are pure post players: Charles Mitchell, Shaquille Cleare and incoming freshman Damonte Dodd. Evan Smotrycz, an expected “stretch four” with deep range and a solid shooting stroke, could provide another warm body inside, but he projects more as a perimeter threat than a post-up weapon.
Maryland will explore its offseason options (post-graduate, transfer and unsigned class-of-2013 prospects), but isn’t quite feeling the urgency that it must make a move. The possibility of a summer addition still exists, but that process could stretch well into mid-June, around the same time Len walks the stage at Newark’s Prudential Center.
Despite averaging just 12 minutes per game this season and 6.9 in the postseason, Cleare will be counted upon to take on a larger contributing role next season. His interior strength, showcased against Duke’s Mason Plumlee, will be a defensive asset, but how will the big Bahamian handle a sizable offensive role after reaching double digits just once since ACC play began? Foul trouble was an issue, but the raw tools and basketball savvy are clearly there.
Mitchell had the better season of Maryland’s two freshman post players, averaging 5.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game. His 20.7 percent rebound rate ranked among the ACC’s best, and the 6-foot-8 forward has proved himself a dangerous offensive rebounder, navigating his frame around taller defenders for easy tip-ins. He displayed surprising agility around the rim, but at times spun out of control on his post-ups. Mitchell’s minutes remained fairly consistent throughout the season — he logged single-digit minutes just three times — so a steady increase seems reasonable.
As for Dodd, early reviews from his prep year at Massanutten Military Academy have been very positive. Playing alongside signees at Kansas, Miami and Boston College, among others, Dodd still impressed with his open-court speed and shot-blocking ability. He might still be an offensive project, but it’s safe to assume he can contribute next season, especially after having gone through the same summer conditioning program that added 35 pounds to Alex Len and dropped 45 pounds combined between Cleare and Mitchell.
All this to reach the most likely conclusion: Unless Coach Mark Turgeon manages to reel in a can’t-miss prospect or top-notch transfer who can shoulder the load, Len’s productivity will be replaced by committee. Mitchell, Cleare, Dodd and whoever else can piece together around 12 points per game. Len’s all-ACC defense, however, is the bigger question.