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So far our journey through the Portland Trail Blazers' prospects in the 2013 NBA Draft has been limited to players available in the range of the #10 pick. Today we're going to look at two draftees who would have to slip in order for the Blazers to select them at #10. Alternately, the Blazers might find them worth trading up for.
Alex Len--7'1", 255lb C from Maryland, 20 y.o. Sophomore
The Alex Len story begins with 7'1" height, great wingspan, and 255 lbs of weight, headed upwards. Those are fine measurements for a 20-year-old. He's a center, born and bred. No messing around, no guessing about power forward, no undersized designation.
The second stanza is all about how he moves those 85 inches and 255 pounds. Some guys are graceful, some powerful. With Len it's all about economy. He gets from Point A to Point B with a minimum of motion and no wasted effort. This is true with his lateral movement, his running, his jumping, his finishes, his jump shots. Often you'll look at a guy and say, "That was a MONSTER athletic move." At the same time you know that's 1 play out of 100, that he needed that athletic explosion to look that good. Len has the athleticism but he doesn't have to use it in order to be effective. That's a great quality and one of the big reasons his stock is higher than other athletic centers in this draft class. His ceiling is high but so is his floor. Instead of vacillating between bad and great you're probably looking at pretty good to great play.
Len's economy of motion gives him a bigger window than most to time rebounds and shot blocks. He has the instinct to take advantage of it. He boards and swats like it was the most natural thing in the world. "There's the ball. I wonder who's going to make the play? Oh yeah. Len."
Len's feet and hands work in sync with the rest of him. This may seem like an obvious point but how many 7-footers have you seen who looked like three different people when they ran, as if the body is going one way, the feet are doing something else, while the hands are spraying odd directions? Len creates space with both hands and feet, making room and catching it soft on offense, slipping past and snagging the ball on defense.
The offense isn't bad. His face-up jumper looks nice. When he gets to the rim he can dunk quick as a hiccup. He's not as athletic or powerful looking as Steven Adams nor is he as well-rounded offensively as Cody Zeller, but he's kind of a mix of the two.
The big drawback to Len is his foot injury, a stress fracture in his left ankle. Not only does this make it hard to evaluate him head-to-head with his draft classmates, you get really nervous when you hear "mobile big man" combined with any kind of foot or leg problem. Len's not going to make it on bulk or strength alone. If he can't move and jump he's less than ordinary.
Other than that, Len's weaknesses can mostly be boiled down to, "We need to make a man out of you." He's young. He needs to get tougher, find a go-to move in the post, learn to attack more. We've said repeatedly during this draft review process that the NBA is not school. However making a man out of young guys and teaching them a couple of techniques is right in the wheelhouse of the league's teachers. It's a sink or swim deal but Len's got too much natural ability and has made too much progress already to even think about sinking. He may not become great, but he'll almost certainly be good.
Verdict for the Blazers
A shot-blocking, rebounding true center with a ready-made floor-spacing jumper and plenty of upside is just what the Blazers are looking for in a draft pick. Even Len's weaknesses--post play, banging--could be made up for in the short run by disguising him in the already-perimeter-oriented offense. Even if he didn't transform Portland's attack he could easily fit into it.
But Len is still a project center. He's more likely to succeed (and sooner) than the other true centers below his level in the draft but he's not going to be ready this year. You're looking at a 1-2 year process minimum before you can think about starting him and keeping integrity. He has to grow, learn, get tougher. You're banking on him doing those things both mentally (desire, integrity, intensity) and physically (the ankle). No matter how promising a guy looks, that's never guaranteed. Len is not going to provide the immediate, sure boost that an established center would. He's just going to be cheaper and bring more of the dreaded "potential" on which this team has traded the last few years.
Cheaper is a relative term here, as well. If Len slips all the way to #10 the Blazers would have to look hard at him. Otherwise they'd have to trade up for him. Even in a seller's market, that may cost one of their core players if Len goes in the Top 5. The Blazers would then have more cap space to sign a replacement but they do have to get that free agent in order for the move to make sense. It may be a good gamble, but it's still a gamble. One can't shake the feeling that in a normal, deeper draft Len would easily be available at the spot the Blazers are picking already. They may not be getting full value on their bet.
Long story short, Len would be one of a couple players possibly worth moving up for in this draft, but you are still moving up for him and the cost will have to be weighed carefully, especially considering his injury.
Victor Oladipo--6'4", 213lb SG from Indiana, 21 y.o. Junior
If you lived through the 1980's you may recall an unholy quarter-sucking arcade machine known as Defender. The side-scrolling, astronaut-saving space romp was so difficult that nobody mortal had a chance of making it past the fifth level but so attractive that everybody kept on pouring their allowances into it anyway.
The NBA better prepare for a trip to Soviet Russia, because in 2013 Defender plays you in the form of Victor Oladipo. It's going to be just as hard to master and just as alluring.
Oladipo has a few noteworthy assets--length, athleticism, continuous motor--but his defense tops them all. Most highlight reels are full of dunks and threes. Oladipo has some of those. But his defensive moves are just magic. He gets through screens like they weren't there. On-ball or off-ball, it's like he's always around. And he just doesn't stop. You might as well play the Terminator. Every time you shoot at, around, or over him he comes back even harder.
One example: Lots of guys get steals but mostly they're playing the passing lanes, timing bad tosses. Oladipo is just taking the ball out of the hands of dribblers. You can see palpable relief on the faces of some of these guys when they bail out and pass out of the play. They just want him off of their case. It's as sick as any slam dunk you've seen, just on the other end of the floor.
Oladipo's athleticism gives him some offensive options as well. He's got a good finish on the break and he's a nice offensive rebounder.
A 60% clip from the field, 44% from the arc, and 67% true shooting percentage are going to make eyes fly wide, especially when attached to a potential elite-level defender. But here's where the burgeoning legend may exceed the reality. Oladipo has a jumper. He can catch and shoot or hit off of a couple dribbles. But his form is his own. It's not classic, especially on his long shots. His college threes involved some degree of push on the release. Those that didn't usually missed. Back up the arc and you increase the need for push and a lower release. That's not going to fly in the NBA. Plus he shot only 2 three-point attempts per game and 8.5 total attempts. Compare that to Ben McLemore at 11 and 5, C.J. McCollum at 16 and 5, or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at 13 and 7. Oladipo is efficient but not an offensive dynamo.
One of Oladipo's biggest assets is the offensive rebound. He's tenacious and athletic enough to grab plenty. But having a guard thrive on offensive rebounds in the NBA is problematic. They entail a miss. Misses are usually picked up by the opposing team no matter how good your offensive rebounding skills are. Guards are generally supposed to be the first defenders back to stop the break...not possible if you're buried under the hoop trying to corral that miss. A guy like Russell Westbrook can usually get away with it because he's a penetrating guard anyway and because he plays next to a defensive master in the backcourt. But Oladipo is supposed to be that defensive master.
Nor will Oladipo be scoring on halfcourt drives anytime soon. His handle is unpolished and unidirectional. If he can get to the hole on a straight drive he'll bruise the rim dunking it down. But if he has to change direction he's not going to finish strong, or maybe at all.
Oladipo never quits on anything. He has the kind of attitude and effort that never go out of style. But he has a fair amount to prove on offense. He could end up as a legitimate star or one of the most prized role-players in the league. He could also end up as a highly athletic version of the "3D" shooting guard, heavy on the "D" and light on the "3".
Verdict for the Blazers
Oladipo does plenty of things the Blazers would like and it's hard to imagine him being anything but a great complement to Damian Lillard in the backcourt. His defense will be exemplary and even if he doesn't stretch the floor all the way to the arc, mid-range is plenty good enough for Portland's purposes. The Blazers could even accentuate his offensive rebounding potential by keeping Nicolas Batum on the perimeter as a first-call transition defender and letting Victor head inside at will.
The Blazers will miss good handles at the shooting guard position and the ability to get to the rim in traffic but they don't have that now anyway.
Chances are Oladipo will end up quite good. I don't see any way he busts out of the league short of catastrophic injury. There's little downside to this kind of move.
The caveats are two:
1. Moving up far enough to get him is bound to be expensive. Len at least has a small chance of dropping to Portland's pick. If buzz means anything, Oladipo won't.
2. The guy is a per-minute wonder, which is exactly the type of player the internet will overrate. There's no argument on defense. It's nearly impossible to overrate Oladipo's prowess there. But this guy may not be the next big star as some are forecasting. He could be, but efficiency numbers and single-year statistics don't always ring true even when considering NBA years, let alone when making the transition to a higher level of competition. He could also end up being the next James Posey. That's not bad, but it's not exactly the franchise-changing move people are hoping for when his name comes up in awed whispers.
The safest assumption is that you're getting an excellent role-player, a fine starting shooting guard because of his defense, until Oladipo proves he can become more. You then have to ask whether you kept enough talent and cap space post-trade in order to build around the remaining core sufficiently. If the Blazers had a chance to move up, trading away Wesley Matthews in the process and saving money while securing a good defensive guard, they'd have to consider that. But chances are one of the upper-lottery teams will covet Oladipo and that his name will be inscribed onto the list of players that Portland would have liked to have drafted but couldn't find a way to.
Should either of these players tempt the Blazers to move up? If so, how much should Portland pay for the privilege? Share your opinion below.