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Should the Oklahoma City Thunder Go After Alex Len in NBA Draft?
"Ugly" doesn't begin to describe the playoff exit made by the Oklahoma City Thunder at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2013 playoffs. In a season earmarked for another run to the finals, OKC watched their hopes shatter when Russell Westbrook went down. While they figure to contend again next season there are deeper concerns about their roster than just getting back their star point guard. Has the time arrived for them to make a bold move in the NBA draft?
Kendrick Perkins failure exposed Kevin Durant
Thunder fans thought losing James Harden to the Houston Rockets was bad enough when the 2012-2013 season started. Reaching the Finals was hard enough without the bench stalwart turned All-Star. So when news broke that Westbrook tore his ACL, they wondered what else could go wrong. If anything they got their answer. For the first time in years they got a good long look at the bad side of Kendrick Perkins. Despite so many open looks at the basket afforded to him by the threat of Kevin Durant, he failed to make any kind of offensive impact against the Grizzlies. In fact in five games he scored a grand total 12 points. How can teams expect to win titles with that kind of production from arguably the most important position on the basketball court?
Granted, the Thunder did not sign Perkins for his offense. Since they had Durant and Westbrook, he was their defensive anchor in the front court. Yet as with any crisis situation a team should expect other starters to step up when one goes down. Perkins couldn't do it. His defense did little to stop Memphis as Durant shouldered the offensive burden alone. Not surprisingly Oklahoma City lost in five games. If ever there was a clear cut upgrade they need to make heading into next season it must be at center.
Len may have more long-term potential than Nerlens Noel
Luckily the 2013 NBA draft should have a solid selection of both offensive and defensive options. One good thing that came out of the Harden trade was the 12th overall pick in the first round, giving the Thunder a real chance at a solid impact player. Early mock drafts have them going after front court help, namely centers. The popular choice of the moment is Cody Zeller out of Indiana. On the stat line he seems like a good option. He averaged 16 points per game along with a block, a steal and eight rebounds. That is way better production that anything they got from Perkins. The problem is scouts see a lot of holes Zeller's game. He doesn't have great length, only a 6'10" wingspan and is a little overmatched against more athletic big men. There is a chance he could make a switch to power forward but OKC already has Serge Ibaka there.
If Zeller isn't the best fit, then they could take a chance on less polished players like Steve Adams or Kelly Olynyk but their grades are even lower than his. On the other hand, if they're feeling aggressive they might look the other direction to move up into the top ten. Sitting somewhere in that group is Maryland center Alex Len. Scouts view him as the best all around center in the draft. While Nerlens Noel is the most athletically gifted, his greatness rests on defense. Len can play good defense, having averaged two blocks per game. What people really are wondering is how much better his offensive game can get. Maryland did not have a great team around Len yet he still averaged 12 points and eight rebounds per game. On top of that, he played his best against the best, scoring 23 against Noel and 19 against fellow first rounder Mason Plumlee.
If pressed into a lineup featuring Durant and Westbrook, just how good could Len become? His ability to finish at the rim and even hit a good jump shot from mid range makes him far and away what the Thunder have lacked.
As with any great looking prospect, there is always a catch. Len is recovering from ankle surgery. So any team aiming to go after him must do every bit of homework they can on him to be sure they aren't throwing away a good pick. That is why a contender like OKC is the perfect choice.