- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The NBA draft is next Thursday. It’s an event that is nowhere near as ballyhooed or overhyped as the NFL’s draft, but this year’s version figures to create some pretty big news locally.

Some of that news may be a little mind-boggling.

Georgetown’s Otto Porter Jr. and Maryland’s Alex Len opted to enter the draft after two years at their respective colleges. Wise choices, no doubt. The money being tossed around is too much to ignore for a potential high pick and both figure to go pretty high.

Len, it seems, could go very high. Some credible buzz has been building that the Cleveland Cavaliers may use the No. 1 pick to take Len.

If that creates a “Say what?” reaction, it probably should. No disrespect to Len, who is a fine player and a heck of a pro prospect. He should go high in the draft and he should enjoy a productive pro career.

But No. 1?

Did anyone watch Len at Maryland and say, “There’s the top pick in the draft”?

He is 7-foot-1 and you can’t teach that. There’s some thought that his game may be more suited to the pro style and that his development has not come close to peaking.

But No. 1?

A recent mock draft at SheridanHoops.com, a well-respected site, has Len going No. 1. The Cavaliers are said to be concerned about a knee injury suffered by Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, a 7-footer who may not be able to play until January. Never mind that Len is dealing with an ankle injury of his own.

Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com likes Len, though he isn’t buying the No. 1 talk.

“There is a lot of time to fill before each NBA draft, and lots of bad information circulates,” Parrish said. “It’s why these mock drafts change so much. Either way, at the end of the day, nobody really knows how that night will unfold regardless of what they say. This is mostly a guessing game.

“So, yeah, I know some are now guessing that Alex could go No. 1. And I suppose he could, in theory. But do I think it will actually happen? No. I’d be surprised if it went that way.”

Parrish and CBSSports.com colleague Matt Moore each have Len at No. 10 (Portland) in their most-recent mock drafts. That seems about right. A scan of the billions (or so it seems) mocks online show Len in the 4-10 range.

Last season at Maryland, Len averaged 11.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks for a team that didn’t make the NCAA tournament. He didn’t make first- or second-team All-ACC though he was on the league’s all-defensive team.

“What I like about Alex Len is all of the things everybody likes — his size, his level of skill, his touch around the basket,” Parrish said. “The potential for greatness, or at least very-goodness, is there.

“But why didn’t he dominate at Maryland? Why wasn’t he consistently great? Why couldn’t he carry his college team like so many great players do? That concerns me, and it’s why I’d probably take him lower than most. I like great prospects who have shown they can also consistently be great players. Alex hasn’t really done that, and it hurts him a little in my mind.”

Part of the mystery with this year’s draft, part of the reason why Len is in the discussion as a potential top pick, is that it isn’t a draft with a clear star. There’s no Shaq, no LeBron, no player who screams obvious top pick.

“I think the idea that Alex is even in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick highlights how many questions there are at the top of this draft,” Parrish said.

“A guy who averaged 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds on a so-so team as a sophomore might go No. 1 overall? That alone is proof that the majority of general managers aren’t completely sold on anybody. I don’t mean to be dismissive of Alex; I think he’s a nice prospect. But better prospects have been picked fifth in some drafts, which, again, says more about this draft than it does about Alex.”

As for Porter, he’s also in the discussion for the top pick. But almost every mock draft out there — and again there are about eleventy billion — has Porter being there when the Wizards pick third. He’d be another very nice young piece to partner with guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. Healthy, the Wizards showed a lot of progress last season and Porter would help move the team in the right direction.

Parrish and colleague Moore are among the many who have Porter going to Washington. Or, in this case, staying in Washington.

“I don’t think Otto Porter is just a good fit for the Wizards; I think he’s a good fit for anybody,” Parrish said. “He’s a tall, skilled, smart forward who can shoot. He was great at the college level and carried his team to a wonderful season despite the way it ended. So I don’t see any reason why he won’t be really good at the NBA level, too.”