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Guessing the Suns 2016 draft pick? Look no further than Alex Len in 2013

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NBA talent scouts have a difficult job. They have to predict the future when looking at the present, but it's the players who are responsible for realizing their potential. The 2016 Draft might come down to rolling the dice on the highest upside.

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The NBA Draft is a crapshoot. We all know it, but we still spend hours pouring over scouting and highlight videos to pick out our best fits for our favorite team. 'Tis the season to be swamis.

But the very best NBA prospects only become good NBA players if they find a way to maximize their strengths and minimize or erase their weaknesses against 150 of the best basketball players on the planet.

Quite often, NBA GMs and draftniks are wrong. Only half of the top ten each year become very good NBA pros, if even that many. Less than half of the next 10 are good pros. And the odds keep getting worse.

But that doesn't stop us from believing WE know the best prospects before their names are called.

In our mind's eye, we make decisions on which prospects are more likely to overcome their weaknesses in the pros. Once we've made that decision, weaknesses only become opportunities while strengths become the very nature of that players' essence as difference makers at the next level.

Sometimes picking a player is an easy decision. In 2012, Anthony Davis was a consensus #1 overall. No conjecture needed. In 2014, it was Andrew Wiggins. In 2015, Karl-Anthony Towns. Those three picks were easy. It's the other 117 first round picks from 2012-2015 that were much, much harder to get right.

In a 30-man first round, each draft generally only produces about 10 future NBA starters and another 10-15 role players at best. NBA scouts do their best job of ranking the players properly before the draft commences, but a lot of it comes down to crossing fingers and hoping for the best.

Because in the end it's the players who have to prove it in the NBA. It's the player who makes or breaks the careers of the guys who drafted them.

You have to trust that the player will find a way to become better in the pros than they were college. Twenty years ago, that meant making the player prove it in college by developing their game over four years of a NCAA play. But these days, that means taking the youngest player possible and trusting your own player development staff to help him excel in the NBA.

Let's take a look at recent Suns draft picks to see who got better in the pros than they were in college.

2013: Alex Len went 5th overall

The 2013 draft was awful, by all accounts, going into draft night. The Suns held one of the most difficult picks at #5 overall in a bad draft, being that they couldn't take the best prospect but had to "guess right" on that next tier of player to find the gem among the glass rocks.

Three years later, you've got to shake your head at that draft and wonder how so many front offices got so much wrong. #1 overall pick? Out of the league. #2 is a starter, but projects best as a sixth man. #3 and #4 are role players. Len is a sometime starter at #5, which makes him better than four of the top 5 picks, but that's not saying much. The best players from that draft were picked later on, after they'd been passed up time and time again.

But in a vacuum, DX had Alex Len #1 overall on their Big Board going into the draft. No one had C.J. McCollum up there. Nor did they Rudy Gobert up there. Or the Greek Freak.

Len was the total package in terms of skill set and physical profile, but had a bad ankle and underwhelming productivity even into his second year at Maryland. The biggest guy in the league couldn't even get voted onto any of the three All-ACC teams in 2013. The All-ACC teams that year were a "Who's Not" up and down the line.

But Alex Len was a great prospect and the Suns took him.

What kind of talent was Alex Len in 2013? Did the Suns get what they bargained for?

Watch his scouting report again here, from the great Mike Schmitz. I'd embed it, but DX doesn't like that for this video.


Well, that sounds like Alex Len all right. Three years, and two relatively healthy ones, later that's still kind of the scouting report you might make up for Len going forward in his career.

His physical profile is still one of the best in the NBA. He's got quick feet, good lateral movement, great length and size. He's got potential on defense but he's been inconsistent with it. He regressed this past season on defense, but so did the entire Suns team. He stopped blocking shots, as did Tyson Chandler, and spent a great deal of time just focused on defensive rebounding rather than rim protection.

And, he still has an array of offensive skills that seem largely untapped. At times, you see a fluid jumper. A nice spin move. A sweet hook shot. A massive, rim-rocking dunk in traffic. But most of the time, it appears he has no clue what he's doing out there. This past season, Len almost posted the very worst FG% in NBA history by a 7-footer. Seriously.

Has Alex Len improved on his strengths? Maybe marginally, but not much. You can put that on the Suns' player development staff, but you can also put that on Len himself. He often seems to be holding himself back mentally in games, where he hesitates too long which allows the defense to adjust. Explosion is not Len's middle name.


Well this sounds like Alex Len too, doesn't it?

If you had to list Len's weaknesses, these would still come to mind. Len is the epitome of unpolished offensively, nearly setting a league record for lowest FG% among 7-footers in NBA history. On the both ends, Len is great at bodying up guys who are as big as him, but he still plays small against small lineups.

His effort is always there, but the intensity is not. You've seen it. Len had a stretch this past season where he had 11 straight 10+ rebound games - the first time that's happened for the Suns since Shawn Marion - and yet somehow disappeared after that for long stretches. His whole career has been a handful of very good games sandwiched by bad ones.


So what's your takeaway from this exercise?

As you watch video after video of draft prospect profiles, know that the player who reaches the NBA will not suddenly overcome his weaknesses and maximize his strengths simply because he starts playing basketball for a living.

Some players overcome their weaknesses, for sure. Or they enhance their strengths. C.J. McCollum. Devin Booker. Rudy Gobert. Jimmy Butler. Draymond Green. The list goes on. But the list is even longer of guys who really never overcame their weaknesses in the NBA and never came close to reaching their potential.

This year, the Suns have the 4th overall pick in a bad draft. Yay. Any pick from 3-7 is a terrible pick in that you KNOW there's going to be 10-15 NBA starters in the draft, and you KNOW that most of them will be picked later than #4 overall. That's just math.

In 2013, they went for upside with Len. Maybe Len will still prove them right, but as of now he's not even close to the 5th best NBA player in that draft.

Let's hope in 2016 the Suns get it right with the #4 overall pick.

Do you go for upside and (assuming Simmons, Ingram and Bender are off the board) take a swing at PF Marquese Chriss who just might have the best combination of size and upside? Chriss' upside looks something like Amare Stoudemire. His middle comp might be something like Tristan Thompson with a three-point shot. His down side comp would be Tyrus Thomas, who went #2 overall in his draft.

Or do you ignore roster needs and take a guard because that's where the best talent lies after the top two, no matter that their ceiling and fit on the Suns might not be the best? Kris Dunn, Jamal Murray and Buddy Hield all could be very dangerous pros, but would require major roster changes to help them excel in Phoenix.

Or do you play it safe and take a Jaylen Brown? I know you might not think Brown is "safe" but in my opinion he is the safest pick after Simmons and Ingram. Brown's most likely comp appears to be fairly good - as a defensive specialist who can lock up anyone from 1-4 and can make a three pointer. His most likely career won't put him as one of a playoff team's 2-3 best players, but everyone needs an Iguodala type on their team and that's what I see Jaylen Brown most likely to become. His high comp? Maybe Jimmy Butler or Andre Iguodala in his prime.

I'm not saying Iguodala is a poor man's Jaylen Brown. I'm just saying that it's very easy to envision Brown in a swiss army knife role like the one Iguodala has for the Golden State Warriors. Iggy comes off the bench, but is one of their most important players as a defender and sometime scorer.

Who knows who the Suns will take with the #4 overall pick. Just be prepared for the pick to be panned at some point as players taken later - some of them MUCH later - end up as better pros.

It's quite possible that the player the Suns take at #13 ends up as a better pro than the one at #4.