PHOENIX – The 2013 NBA Draft was dripping with uncertainty in the days and weeks leading up to the event. That didn’t change when the Cleveland Cavaliers selected UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett with the first overall selection.
The Phoenix Suns found themselves in a very enviable position when it was time to make their pick. Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, Kansas’ Ben McLemore and Alex Len of Maryland were all available.
Their pick surprised some — they went with Len, the 20-year-old Ukrainian center who played two years of collegiate ball with the Terrapins.
“I think it started with the first pick in the draft, when Anthony Bennett went first, I think everybody in the room was excited to think that the guy we had rated highest on our board may end up getting there,” Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “And that’s exactly what happened with Alex.”
Len was projected by many experts to be the number one overall pick despite his pedestrian college numbers and the fact that he had surgery in May for a partial stress fracture in his ankle.
“Any time you can get a 7-foot-1 guy with a long wingspan and he’s athletic and he’s got skills, he’s 20-years-old, you know it’s a bright piece for the future,” Hornacek said. “It’s not very often you can get this type of player.”
Len averaged 11.9 points on 53 percent shooting during his sophomore year at Maryland — again, not eye-popping numbers, but Hornacek and Suns’ brass aren’t concerned about that.
“You can look at his production at Maryland — he didn’t get the ball enough,” he said. “We felt that just watching what he does, it’s a rare guy when you can get that opportunity, and let’s face it, how many times have the Phoenix Suns had a 7-1 guy with that kind of skill?
“We’re very excited.”
There were reports earlier Thursday that the Suns were interested in packaging both their first-round picks and dealing them to Cleveland in exchange for the number one pick. Chad Ford of ESPN reported that the Suns were hot after Noel, and that was the one way to ensure he’d land in Phoenix. As the night wore on, those reports were debunked. So what is it about Len that Phoenix liked more than what Noel offered?
“I think the all-around skill,” Hornacek said. “Is he as good a shot-blocker as Noel? Probably not, but he’s still as long, can block shots and has the offensive game.”
Len led the ACC in blocked shots in 2012-13, averaging 2.1 per contest. He also had six double-doubles, including a 23-point, 12-rebound performance in Maryland’s season-opening loss against Noel and Kentucky.
While visiting with Phoenix in early June, Len said he’ll be able to return to basketball activities in August, which would have him back in plenty of time for the beginning of training camp in September.
“It was a surgery they said would have healed on its own,” Hornacek said. “This may have sped the process up a little bit by having the surgery and having the pin in there but I don’t think there’s any issues with that.”