Chatter increases for former Maryland center Alex Len as No. 1 overall pick


(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

With the June 27 NBA draft fast approaching, former Maryland center Alex Len says he remains focused on his rehabilitation, as focused as one can be with your life’s biggest moment just upon the horizon. Long projected as a lottery lock, the buzz surrounding Len has increased even further, with speculation mounting that the Cleveland Cavaliers could consider selecting Len with the No. 1 pick.

First, DraftExpress bumped Len atop its prospect rankings but kept him at fourth in its mock draft, a nod to his talents yet recognition that results don’t always align with pre-draft expectations.

Then Sheridan Hoops, the independent Web site run by former ESPN writer Chris Sheridan, cited some unnamed sources and wrote that “Cleveland has been warming to Alex Len as concerns about Nerlens Noel’s knee and whether he is the best fit longterm alongside Kyrie Irving have increased.” Accordingly, the Web site’s mock draft has Len going first overall. 

Here’s what writer Joe Kotoch said about Len:

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has come out publicly saying the playoffs are the team’s goal for next season, and with Noel’s recovery from an ACL injury likely to bleed into the first few months of the regular season, the Cavs might be cooling on that option.  Cleveland executive Zyndrunas Ilgauskas also has been one of Len’s biggest fans, perhaps seeing some of himself in Len.

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.

It is easy to see why pairing Len with Kyrie Irving could change the fortunes of this downtrodden franchise. Len is a long and lengthy defender who can block shots and rebound, though not at the impactful level of a healthy-Noel.

Len’s signature right now is his developed offensive game in the post and facing the basket. With Irving and Len, Cleveland could have a really impressive pick-and-pop game.

Monday, the buzz resurfaced thanks to a single tweet from Jimmy Smith, the Pelicans beat writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Len has been linked to the Pelicans at No. 4 overall before and recently visited New Orleans for interviews, coming away impressed with the city.

“I really liked New Orleans,” he said. “It was a real nice city. I like the city because it’s a real European kind of style. Have you ever been there? They have a French Quarter. It’s part of the city. When you go in this neighborhood, it’s like you’re in France, those little streets, it’s pretty cool.”

Has he ever been to France?

“I actually haven’t,” Len said, laughing. “But I’ve seen it in the movies. It’s pretty cool.”

So far, he’s taken actual trips to Phoenix, Portland and Oklahoma City, he said before another workout at Comcast Center, just more than a week before he may become Maryland’s third No. 1 draft pick ever and first since 1995.

“Just trying to get a feel for the teams,” Len said. “When I get drafted to one of those teams, it won’t feel new, because I already know people in those organizations. The transition will be easier.”

So what do you think? Will the Cavs take Len at No. 1? Take a gander at the story I wrote a few weeks back on Len’s rehab and leave your thoughts in the comments.

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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Alex Prewitt | June 17, 2013