When I wrote a little bit last week about early reports that Alex Len could be the Cleveland Cavaliers' choice with the first overall pick in Thursday's NBA Draft, I made the observation that he could either become a non-factor in a Mike Brown-run system or a well-supported offensive dynamo in the post.
You could go back and read what I wrote then, but here are the essentials: There's a lot to like about Len's potential situation in Cleveland: He'd be working under an experienced head coach and presumably with a tremendous veteran rebounder and defender in Anderson Varejao, and teams' defensive focus on skilled guards like Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters could leave Len alone with vulnerable defenders near the basket, where he could thrive on the back of an effective face-up game. And don't forget: Andrew Bynum's best NBA season came when Brown was coaching him in Los Angeles. even if the two didn't always get along.
There are also some red flags about Alex Len the Cavalier, particularly that he'd never be the primary scoring option behind those guards and conceivably power forward Tristan Thompson. When Len wasn't closely involved with ball-handling in College Park, he was usually at his most irrelevant. To that end, if Len went quiet for long stretches next to non-tournament talent at Maryland, he could be offensively silent playing with the guards in Cleveland (though I have no doubt he'd be useful as a pick-setter and potentially a pick-and-pop type).
So, that's where I stand on the Len-to-Cleveland hypothetical. But what about the other teams that could take him? Aside from Cleveland, Len has been linked most frequently to Washington at No. 3, New Orleans at No. 6 and Portland at No. 10. Other high-lottery teams already have young or prime-aged centers of at least decent repute: Orlando (Nikola Vucevic), Charlotte (Bismack Biyombo, if he counts), Phoenix (Marcin Gortat), Sacramento (DeMarcus Cousins), Detroit (Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond) and Minnesota (Nikola Pekovic). That's not to say for certain that any of those clubs wouldn't take Len, but it makes his selection by them less likely.
Let's zero in, then, on three more potential homes for the former Terp: D.C., New Orleans and Portland.
Washington Wizards - Third Overall
The Wizards have a few middling, expensive veterans who can play the five spot, in Emeka Okafor and Nene, and a solid young player, Kevin Seraphin. But they could absolutely use Len, as Okafor and Nene aren't worth blocking his development. Like Cleveland, these Wizards will always be a guard-centric team, though Len could be effective as a down-low outlet for John Wall and Bradley Beal. Len isn't yet an especially great post shooter, but he should get plenty of opportunities to score points on a mostly talent-bereft roster.
I'm lying if I tell you I know how good every Wizard is defensively, but it seems like Len and Seraphin could team up as a solid shot-blocking and rebounding tandem for years to come. Seraphin was a top-50 shot blocker last year and should get better, and Len, obviously, has huge upside defending his own basket. If the Wizards put them on the court together, that's an intriguing combination for the long haul.
New Orleans Pelicans - Sixth Overall
Though he's 6-foot-10, the Pelicans used Anthony Davis mostly as a power forward last season, relying largely on fillers Robin Lopez and Jason Smith at center. Len, obviously, would be a huge upgrade for them at the five, and everything I said about Len and Seraphin making a nice defensive duo could be multiplied many times over for a Len-Davis team.
If they both develop properly (and Davis turns out to be best-served as a power forward), here's what we could be looking at in three years from the two of them: 30-38 PPG, 18-22 RPG, 3-5 BPG, 2-3 APG and practically no penetration or rebounding from opposing offenses. Davis is a way better prospect than Len, but they could work tremendously together. Add in a young and reasonably-priced Ryan Anderson, and the Pelicans could be set in the front-court. Sure, neither guy has probably ever played next to someone like the other and there's no guarantee that the two tall, lanky giants would mesh well, but that doesn't make this idea any less exciting.
Don't forget, either, about old friend Greivis Vasquez tossing Len alley-oops and feeding him on rolls like a better version of Pe'Shon Howard. Man, this has to happen. Forget the top pick. I am 100 percent onboard with New Orleans becoming College Park South.
Portland Trail Blazers - 10th Overall
This is probably the most disappointing spot where Len could go. There's nothing particularly exciting for the program about churning out 10th overall picks, and it's probably the very low end of Len's draft possibilities. I also don't see it as a great basketball fit; for several years, the least important player in Portland's offense has been -- and should continue to be -- the center. That makes sense, as the Blazers have a strong backcourt (Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews) and a franchise centerpiece at power forward (LaMarcus Aldridge). Their centers over the past two seasons are mostly a motley crew of underachievers, washouts and plugs. True story: Just two seasons ago, they employed (and used) Kurt Thomas and Joel Pryzbilla at the same time.
Maybe, then, they could use to upgrade by taking Len. He'd certainly make their team better and immediately boost their interior defense. As a Len fan, however, I'm not at all looking forward to him having so few opportunities to grow offensively -- because, really, who's going to get the Blazers' post looks: Aldridge, the established star, or Len, the low-lottery rookie? Portland seems like a wonderful place (and I'm no Zach Lowe in my strategic insights), but it seems like there are far better destinations for Len's professional development -- and our entertainment.
As the draft approaches, the stakes will be pretty significant for Len and, for recruiting purposes, Maryland. All that's nearly certain -- given what I've just written -- is that he'll wind up somewhere other than in these four cities.
[Post-publishing notice: As terps3030 and Terps2011 note in the comments, there's also a solid possibility that Len (Biyombo's presence not withstanding) could go to Charlotte at No. 4. That could wind up being a significant oversight on my part, especially if the Cavaliers and Wizards, as some expect, pass on Len for, say, Nerlens Noel and Otto Porter, then Michael Jordan's team opts for Len. That's a point that should be recognized.]