Alex Len: Potential and Upside

Christian Petersen

This is me throwing my name into the hat for the Bright Side of the Sun unofficial correspondent for news relating to Goran Dragic that isn't available in English, and also Alex Len, the one this post is really about.

Growing up with European basketball, the aspect I most enjoyed was the skilled big man under the rim that was a threat on defense, meaning a good rim protector, good lateral quickness, a feel for positioning under the rim in help defense (as well as on offense with rebounding) and long enough to swat away anything that isn't shot from at least 3 feet away from him.

On offense, the quickness is necessary for sprinting faster than the opposite big, being able to position his feet quickly for hedges and screens, as well as setting up the pick'n'roll and then rolling to the basket. Having a soft touch of course helps with the hook shot and fade-aways (Nowitzki comes to mind), not to mention free throws.

For the purpose of this post, I've watched a few clips of Alex Len, my favourite prospect on the Suns by far (Goodwin is a close second, don't panic) and in him I see (or at least I like to think so) the fundamentals of a really good big man.

(When I figure out the video feature, I'll embed the clip)

Here he's doing everything really, contesting shots, going for the rebound, setting screens, turn-around jumpers and the all-important put-backs. And although I know most of his play came in the "garbage time", the other quality I look for in a young player is his motor, his drive to do the best he can in the limited minutes he's getting, especially on a playoff-bound (almost) team.

Here it's obvious (to my untrained eye) he's really applying himself in every situation, be it rolling to the basket, drawing the double team and then passing to an open team mate, getting in position for the rebound or just generally boxing out when the ball goes up. This is really important and something Miles Plumlee should watch and learn. Even if Len can't grab the loose ball, the combination of his length and positioning mean he'll at least be able to tap it to a nearby player or out of bounds if there's a chance of a counter-attack, effectively stopping it.

His soft touch (seen here with the hook shot and the turn-around jumper) is obvious (again, untrained eye) and because of his footwork and length, it means he can get the ball to the basket with just a step-through or a turn around jumper from anywhere within 6 feet of the rim. That is a much better skill set than a big that can merely jump and throw it down with force.

That said, it is obvious the pace is still a bit too fast for him and he just doesn't know where to be or what to do in certain situations, which is characteristic for young big men in the NBA that normally take longer to fully develop their game than let's say any SG who can shoot.
But if he stays the course of gradual improvement he's shown this year, with the help of a full summer camp under Hornacek I really do think we've got something special in him. (For the more knowledgeable fan, he brings to mind a bit of Rasho Nesterovic)

The other shortcoming is his frame, which really needs a summer or two spent in the weight room, which will also help prevent further injuries bigs are so prone to.

On a side note, I am also a huge fan of a big not backing down when there's trouble on the court.

And yes, I am well aware all these points have been discussed ad nauseam, but still, I can't help but feel excited for the prospect of a "proper" big playing for the Suns.

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