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PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns chose Ukrainian center Alex Len with the fifth overall pick in the NBA draft, passing on Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore.
The 7-foot-1 Len, who just turned 20, played two seasons at Maryland. Last year he averaged 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Len came to Phoenix but did not work out because he is recovering from a stress fracture in his foot.
Because of a couple of surprise picks ahead of them, the Suns found that Noel, the big center from Kentucky, and McLemore, the sharpshooting guard from Kansas, were still available. But new general manager Ryan McDonough and new coach Jeff Hornacek went for Len.
The pick in Thursday’s draft was the highest for the Suns since they chose Armon Gilliam second overall in 1987.
With its second pick in the first round, Phoenix made a trade with Golden State to move up a notch to No. 29, selecting 18-year-old Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin. The Suns see the 6-foot-5 Goodwin as a point guard. He led Kentucky in scoring in his one season there at 14.1 points per game but shot just 36 percent.
A Parade and McDonald’s All-America at Sylvan Hills High School in Sherwood, Ark., Goodwin was second on the team in assists (2.7 per game) and steals (1.1) per game. His 466 points ranked 10th among all freshmen in Kentucky history.
To get the 29th pick, Phoenix traded the 30th selection to Golden State. The Suns selected power forward Alex Oriakhi of Missouri in the second round.
Hornacek said the Suns had Len as their top player and they were concerned he would go to Cleveland at No. 1.
“When Anthony Bennett went first, I think everybody in the room was excited to think that, ‘Hey, the guy that we have rated highest on our board may end up getting there,” Hornacek said, “and that’s exactly what happened with Alex.”
Noel had been projected by many as the No. 1 overall pick, but Hornacek said the Suns preferred Len because of “his overall skill.”
“Is he as good a shot blocker as Noel? Maybe not,” he said, “but he still is long and can block shots and he has the offensive game.”
In a matchup with Kentucky and Noel early last season, Len had 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. Len had 20 points in a loss to North Carolina in the ACC tournament semifinals. He served a 10-game suspension to start his freshman season due to NCAA amateurism guidelines.