Draft Projection: No. 5: Phoenix Suns
Positives: Insider Only
Negatives: Insider Only
Summary: June 26 Update: Len is blessed with both size and skill -- a rare combination in the draft. He also is a solid athlete for his position and a potential two-way player down the road. A stress fracture and a backcourt that wouldn't pass him the ball limited his growth this season. But so did a certain malaise that would occasionally overcome him. If he can learn to play hard and strong all of the time, he has a very bright future ahead of him.
Quick fact: Len was third in the ACC with 1.02 points per play as the screener in a pick-and-roll, shooting 55.3 percent from the field.
June 25 Update: There is essentially zero information coming out of Charlotte right now. That's how the Bobcats like it. Even Michael Kidd-Gilchrist didn't know he was going to the Bobcats until they called his name on draft night. We appear to be in a similar situation here. Len, Anthony Bennett and Ben McLemore are the three most obvious fits. While there seems to be some movement toward Len, this one is more of a guess.
June 24 Update: While Len has a legitimate shot at going No. 1, our voters in the Secret NBA Draft Big Board overall weren't nearly as high on him. He didn't garner a 10 from anyone and was rated as low as 4 by one voter. That lack of consensus from our panel shows up around the league as well in private conversations. Some GMs love him, while others are very wary. But his overall rating of 77.5 puts him just five points behind Noel. Like the five players above him, he's expected to be one of the top six picks on draft night.
June 18 Update: Len could go as high as No. 1 to the Cavs or No. 4 to the Bobcats, but I doubt he gets past the Pelicans at No. 6. Pairing him on the floor with Anthony Davis makes for a terrific front line. Small forward and point guard are the other two directions in which the Pelicans could go.
They love Porter, but it's doubtful he'll still be there at No. 6, and after Dario Saric withdrew from the draft on Monday, there aren't any other small forwards to be really excited about. They like Trey Burke and Michael Carter-Williams, but sources continue to say they believe Austin Rivers still can make the transition to point guard.
June 10 Update: Len, who is on crutches due to a stress fracture in his left ankle, isn't able to work out either. But that hasn't stopped his rise on our Big Board. Increasingly, teams are looking to him as a potentially safer alternative to Noel. While he's likely to miss the next four to five months as he rehabs his ankle, teams feel like he's got better size, is more polished offensively and could have a bigger upside than Noel. As we've previously reported, he's seriously in the mix with the Cavs for the No. 1 pick, with some sources indicating the Cavs could be moving his direction (I'm told Noel, Porter and Oladipo are the others). The Bobcats are also very high on Len, as are the Suns and Pelicans.
May 28 Update: Len was on crutches during his visit to the combine. He measured well with a nearly 7-foot-4 wingspan and was impressive in interviews by virtually all accounts. If he could work out, I think he'd have a shot at going No. 1. However, from what I'm told, he's still in the mix with the Cavs for that top spot anyway. It's hard to imagine him falling out of the top 10.
May 15 Update: Len will be out of commission the next four to six months after undergoing foot surgery last week. While scouts aren't particularly concerned about the injury itself, it stalls the momentum he was starting to build. "A big man with foot problems" is not how he wants to be described on draft night. While I don't think the injury will hurt his stock, I think it eliminates the Len-over-Noel discussion that was just starting to surface.
May 8 Update (Projected No. 8, Wizards): Before last week's news that Len was undergoing surgery and would miss the NBA draft workouts, the combine and summer league, it seemed improbable that the 7-foot-1 big man would fall this low. Now, it appears that he's right within Washington's range. Len could be a steal at No. 8 and could fit a long-term need for Washington. He's one of the two or three most skilled big men in the draft and still has enormous upside.
May 2 Update: I spent some time this week with a number of international scouts who all had the same question for me: Why isn't Len in the mix to be the No. 1 pick? If you watched a lot of Maryland games, you already know the answer, but the scouts' perspectives were interesting. In international play Len was dominant, but if someone like Jonas Valanciunas had played in Maryland's system, it's likely that his numbers would've been better than Len's. While I doubt that Len will get the nod over Noel (unless there are more complications with his ACL), I could see teams that are desperate for a big man taking Len at No. 2 or No. 3. Virtually every team in the mix for Noel could end up having Len as Plan B on draft night if he has strong workouts.
Apr 15 Update: Len has declared for the 2013 NBA Draft. Len's season has really been up and down. He started it with a dominant game over Nerlens Noel, the No. 1 player on our Big Board, and ended it with a couple of strong games in the NIT. In between, he was all over the place. NBA teams love the size, mobility and offensive potential. Len is also a good rebounder and shot-blocker. The question is why was he so inconsistent? Was it the lack of great guard play at Maryland or does Len lack the aggressiveness and toughness that he needs to excel? Either way he's a likely top-10 pick.
Apr 2 Update: After struggling in the first two rounds of the NIT, Len dominated in the third round, a 58-57 win over Alabama in the quarterfinals. Len had 15 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks (including a huge one with just a few seconds left in the game to seal the victory for Maryland). Maryland plays Iowa in the semifinals Tuesday evening on ESPN2.
Mar 26 Update: Len's NCAA tournament hopes ended with a strong 20-point, 7-rebound performance in a loss to North Carolina in the ACC tournament. But he followed up that strong game with two stinkers in the NIT -- an 8-point, 3-rebound performance against Niagara and a 5-point, 3-rebound performance against Denver. When Len is on, and getting the ball, he looks like he could be the second coming of Zydrunas Ilgauskas. But when he's not, he looks a lot more like Darko Milicic. Scouts have cooled on him a little, but strong workouts could erase those doubts.
Mar 13 Update: Len has had his moments -- both for good (Kentucky, Duke) and for bad (such as his last game against Virginia). Many scouts blame the lack of strong guard play on the Terrapins this season. But others question whether Len has the toughness and drive to put Maryland on his back. For the first time all season, I'm hearing a chorus of scouts encouraging him to return to school for another year.
Feb 27 Update: Len had a huge 19-point, 9-rebound, 3-block performance against Duke and All-American Mason Plumlee that re-established his candidacy as a potential No. 1 pick and the justification for placing him ahead of Plumlee on our Big Board. However, his past two performances (a four-point, eight-rebound stinker against Boston College and a nine-point, eight-rebound effort against Clemson) continue to highlight the fact that Len is a work in progress and will need a strong lead guard to help put him in situations in which he can score the basketball.
Jan 30 Update: Len has the talent to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. His biggest challenge right now is a collection of guards who aren't helpful in getting him the ball. In the past four games since our last update, Len had just eight field goal attempts against North Carolina State, just seven against North Carolina and six against Duke. It's hard to put up big numbers if you don't get the ball. Len's ridiculous reverse baseline dunk against Mason Plumlee and Duke showed off the incredible potential he has. The question is whether NBA scouts will get to see it enough to justify taking him No. 1.
Jan 16 Update: Len is the fourth player on this board who could make a legitimate claim to the No. 1 spot. He hasn't put up the same numbers as the three players ahead of him on this list, but he hasn't had to. Maryland has been blowing out weak opponents and Len has played just 25 minutes per game. What gives him an advantage with certain NBA teams is the fact that he's the only 7-footer on our board with a legit low-post game. Those types of players are hard to find, and could still propel Len into the top spot.
Dec 17 Update:Last week, we moved Len up from No. 5 to No. 2 in our Top 100 not because of a series of stellar games, but because scouts increasingly think that in a risky draft, you swing for size. At 7-foot-1, Len has the size to be an NBA center. He's bigger and better offensively than Noel and is also a terrific shot-blocker and rebounder. Len will have to play consistently well in the ACC to keep this spot, but if he does, he could easily end up surpassing Noel for the No. 1 pick.
Dec 7 Update: Zeller came into the season as the nation's elite offensive big man, but he is getting a run from Len.
Len and Zeller are putting up similar numbers. Zeller is scoring more (15 ppg to 14 ppg) and shooting a higher percentage from the field, but Len is a better rebounder (9 rpg to 7.6 rpg ) and shot-blocker (2.5 bpg to 1.4 bpg).
Len has a significant height advantage over Zeller. He is 7-foot-1 to Zeller's 6-11 and has a longer wingspan. Both players run the floor well and can score around the basket. Len has a better face-the-basket game, and on defense, his additional size and length gives him an advantage at the next level.
The biggest thing going for Len is a feeling among scouts that he is just now tapping into his potential, whereas Zeller may be close to reaching his ceiling.
"I love Zeller," one NBA GM said, "but I see him as a complementary player in our league. He'll play a long time, but I just don't see him being the type of player that turns around your team. That's what you're looking for with a No. 1 pick. Len isn't as far along, but you look at his size and abilities and it's not hard to imagine him as a credible starting center in the NBA. I think that gives him the advantage."
Nov 12 Update: Len made himself a lot of money on Friday. He had career-highs in points (23) and rebounds (12) against the No. 1 player on our Big Board (Noel) and established himself as a potential elite big man prospect in this year's draft.
Scouts have been watching him ever since his strong performance in the Under-18 European Championships in 2010. He averaged 16 ppg, 11.4 rpg and 4.3 bpg for the Ukraine and appeared to have NBA lottery pick written all over him.
His freshman year at Maryland was a mixed bag. He had his moments, like a 12-point, nine-rebound, four-block game against North Carolina in February. But they were often followed with games where he did almost nothing on either end.
This season he's added strength, and appears to be more confident. Equally important is that fact that, with gunner Terrell Stoglin gone, it appears that Mark Turgeon is finally going to run the offense through Len. If he can keep this up all season, scouts predict he'll go very high in the 2013 NBA draft.
"If Enes Kanter can go No. 3 and Jonas Valanciunas No. 5 in a much stronger draft, Len should be able to easily crack the top five if he's going to play like that all year," one NBA GM said. "He's 7-foot-1, is athletic, rebounds, block shots and has offensive skills, and he's producing against legit NBA talent. Those guys don't come along very often."
Oct 9 Update: Despite a lofty reputation before he ever set foot on Maryland's campus, Len was a bit of a disappointment during his freshman year. He had his moments, but his inconsistency was maddening.
This year, scouts are expecting much bigger things. With Maryland's ball hog, Terrell Stoglin, off the team, scouts expect Maryland's offense to spend much more time getting Len the ball in the post.
Len has the size and athletic ability to be a monster in the paint on both ends of the floor. He's an excellent finisher at the basket and has superb quickness for a big man. On the defensive end, he has the potential to be a monster shot-blocker if he can stay out of foul trouble.
There's always going to be interest in athletic 7-footers at the NBA level. If Len can improve on what we saw last season, he has a decent chance of cracking the lottery, much like Meyers Leonard did in June.