Len Leads ACC Cast In NBA Draft Class

NBA scouts love the upside with Maryland center Alex Len, making him a likely top-five selection.
NBA scouts love the upside with Maryland center Alex Len, making him a likely top-five selection.

Alex Len, center, Maryland

Len will likely be the first ACC player selected in Thursday’s NBA Draft. Len’s athleticism gives him “upside,” especially for a seven-footer. He was an All-ACC Defensive Team player this season, thanks to 2.1 blocks per game.

The knock on Len is that he is raw offensively. The center scored just 11.9 points per game, shooting 53 percent from the floor as a big man. Against Nerlens Noel in Maryland’s opener against Kentucky, he scored 23 points, and he added 19 in Maryland’s 83-74 home win against Duke.

For every spectacular game, there were several where Len struggled offensively. This was particularly true in the Terrapins’ NIT run. In the quarterfinals and semifinals against Alabama and Iowa, Len averaged a double-double. Against smaller and weaker Niagara and Denver in the two games prior, Len combined for just 13 points and six rebounds.

With patience and some good coaching, Len could develop an offensive game to match with his defensive ability. While his back-to-the-backet game was not very good, he moves fairly well for a 7’1” player and was able to use that and a streaky jump shot at times to open up Maryland’s offense. The question, of course, will be whether a team that takes Len with an early draft pick will be the afforded the luxury of time of developing him into a more complete player before casting him away as spoiled goods.

Shane Larkin, guard, Miami

“Barry’s son” made a name for himself during the 2012-13 season, earning the coaches’ vote for ACC Player of the Year and leading Miami to an ACC Championship. After showing off a 44-inch vertical at the combine, Larkin is moving up draft boards as a point guard with a lot more going for him than a famous last name.

Some are skeptical of Larkin’s ability as a pro due to his size, listed as 5-11 while at Miami. While there are players south of six feet in the NBA (see: fellow former ACC hoopster Ty Lawson), they aren’t in overwhelming quantity.

However, his athleticism and ball-handling make him a very intriguing pick, a dynamic point guard whose skills should translate to the NBA. He also has a great understanding of the team game, demonstrated by the way Larkin kept Miami rolling as Reggie Johnson’s minutes fluctuated with injury and recovery.

The concern about Larkin’s height may ultimately be a blessing. By the very nature of draft format, weaker teams will be more likely to pass on Larkin, leaving teams with better talent more likely to select him. With Larkin being a high-quality distributor, falling to a better team will improve his chances of succeeding in the NBA.

Mason Plumlee, center, Duke

Mason Plumlee improved considerably as a senior, making first team All-ACC and garnering discussion for ACC Player of the Year. However, his lack of perceived potential for further improvement will likely make him a late-first round selection.

Plumlee averaged a double-double this season (17.1 points, 10.0 rebounds), improving his offense dramatically. Plumlee was a 46 percent shooter as a freshman, improving to 60 percent from the floor in 2012-13. He was also a 68 percent free throw shooter, considerably better than 44 percent as a sophomore. While this trend of improvement continues, questions linger about how much more he can truly upgrade his game.

Plumlee is unlikely to get any larger (7’0”, 238 pounds at the combine), so there is some concern about how he will fare against bigger centers in the NBA. He finishes well around the rim, but he also has a tendency to settle for difficult post shots, rather than attacking and putting pressure on opponents to either defend or foul him (although his free throw attempts also saw a significant jump in 2013).

Other names to watch:

Lorenzo Brown is a jump shot away from being a very interesting player in this draft class. His size (6’5” point guard, 6’7” wingspan), savvy as a floor general, and ability to defend and rebound well for a guard are all qualities that should help him at the next level. However, without a more consistent shot (41.9 percent shooter), his playing time will be limited.

Reggie Bullock’s stock has climbed since entering the NBA Draft, against the wishes of North Carolina head coach Roy Williams. There was some concern that Bullock wouldn’t be a first rounder, but it appears he has at least given himself a chance to enter that discussion. While he’s unlikely to ever become an NBA All-Star, his tremendous shooting ability could be an asset to an NBA team looking to spread the floor and open up space for dynamic playmakers. The Spurs demonstrated that in this year’s NBA playoffs with another Tar Heel, Danny Green.

Erick Green was the media’s ACC Player of the Year, carrying a bad Virginia Tech team with his prolific scoring, even when opposing defenses knew stopping him was effectively checkmate. He’s not the athlete of Larkin’s caliber, but his scoring should translate well and his passing ability is greater than his numbers indicate (because his teammates were not good). Two questions: Can he defend NBA-caliber guards, and will be he a converted point guard/undersized shooting guard/awkward tweener?

Richard Howell was a fan favorite among ACC basketball followers for his undeniable energy and work rate. Howell was unstoppable underneath the basket for NC State, both as a scorer and a rebounder. He may be undersized for a power forward or center, but his toughness should make him a promising selection.

Kenny Kadji is an interesting player to watch in this draft. There’s lots to love with his game: A true stretch four shooter who also has a capable post game, fairly quick for his size, and a good defender. However, rebounding is a question mark, and at 25 years old he is the exact opposite of drafting somebody like Len for upside.

Ryan Kelly drew some unwanted attention with a 14.75 body fat index in combine measurements. There was no questioning his shot-making as a stretch four before his foot injury, but he struggled outside of the 36 points he scored against Miami in his return. He’s not a great rebounder for his size, and the foot injury will only hurt his questionable defensive movement. If a team is looking for a big who can shoot in the second round, though, Kelly should get a call.

CJ Leslie is an incredible athlete, which makes him a tantalizing draft prospect. However, his sketchy shooting and maddening inconsistency will make him a selection that fans will either love or hate. Some blame Leslie’s streakiness (or perhaps fleeting effort) for NC State’s struggles, which makes him a risky selection.

Michael Snaer is probably the least-discussed of potential ACC draftees, but he’s a solid player who would make a decent second round pick or a worthy signing as an undrafted free agent (which would likely be more beneficial to him).  Snaer is an excellent defensive player, and his clutch offensive plays earned him quite the reputation in the conference. There is some questions regarding the consistency and selection of his shot.