According to Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, No. 5 pick Alex Len was the Suns' No. 1 target in the 2013 NBA Draft. He possessed rare size and athleticism, which is why the Suns saw so much value in him. However, to this point he has appeared in only 12 games and played 83 minutes while dealing with ankle soreness stemming from his offseason surgeries. Getting virtually nothing from your top five pick has to be pretty disappointing.
However, the Suns believe in Len and were willing to take things slow and do whatever they needed to to get him healthy and keep him that way. They brought him along slowly, allowed him to build up some strength, and now Len is back on the court. The Suns' caution is paying off, as Len is starting to make a difference off the Phoenix bench.
In the Suns' 117-103 victory over the the Nuggets, Alex Len had the best game of his very, very brief career, posting highs in every category. He played 16 minutes, scored nine points on 3-4 shooting, hit 3-4 from the line and pulled down six rebounds (four of which came on the offensive end). He was a big part of a dominant bench performance as Markieff Morris, Leandro Barbosa and Ish Smith all made big contributions as well, and that should continue to be the case moving forward as Len gains experience.
"It was huge," Frye said about the bench. "Anytime we can get the bench that many minutes, especially Alex Len who missed the beginning of the season, is awesome. I thought he did well. He is learning. He is bigger than I think people think. For them to get that chemistry going is huge. They have been there for us a lot of times this year. You have to think about the bigger picture. I am always thinking about the bigger picture. That is great that they got those minutes to get there and guys like Goran who are constantly throwing their body around and falling all over the ground and stuff get some rest."
Let's take a look at how Len was able to make such a big impact in limited playing time.
*Video clips used below were taken from MySynergySports.com.
Len is a legit 7-foot-1 center with long arms, but he's not your typical immobile big guy. In addition to being gigantic, he's also very athletic and fast, which he uses to his advantage. Here are a couple of examples from the Denver game that shows how quickly he can get down the floor.
As well as he can run, Len is still really tall and he uses his length to his advantage in every facet of the game.
"He is tall. He is long," Channing Frye said. "He is so long and tall that he is really another addition to our team."
He flashed that size on a couple of possessions against Denver, and I also went back to the Memphis game to showcase his defensive potential.
Len is still working his way back to full health after all the time he missed. He's still getting back in shape, adjusting to the speed of the NBA game and continuing to add strength to his frame. Len is big now, but as he continues to mature physically he can become even more of a force inside.
One thing that Len doesn't need much work on is his rebounding. His instincts are phenomenal and his fundamentals are sound. When the ball goes up, he's at the rim fighting for position almost every time. Pay attention to his timing, how he secures position rather than just running to the ball and how he fights to get a hand on it even when he doesn't have position.
Len is averaging a ridiculous 8.2 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes, and 13.0 total rebounds per 36. Small sample size is clearly in effect, but his offensive rebound percentage is 24.7 percent, the highest mark of any player who has played 80 or more minutes. The only other player to match that feat is a 37-year-old Moses Malone, who only played 11 games. Len is still learning the rest of the game, but rebounding is one thing he can contribute right now on a consistent basis.
The Suns aren't asking Len to do very much right now, but Frye said the 20-year-old is only scratching the surface of his potential.
"I think Alex, eventually, once he gets things going can play the four," Frye said. "I think you are seeing simple Alex. We just ask him to rebound, roll to the front of the rim, block shots, and play defense. He is extremely talented and I see why they picked him five. He is just going to be another piece of that bench that is already big for us."
The Alex Len era is just beginning in Phoenix, and Suns fans have a lot to look forward to assuming he can stay healthy. He still has a long way to go, but he's starting to flash the potential that made him the No. 5 overall pick.