Lensanity has begun. Alex Len, the Suns first top five pick since Armon Gilliam went #2 overall in 1987, rightfully had a lot of expectations and pressure on him to be the next step forward for the Suns. Little did Len and the Suns know that Len would be the second in line at the center position and be needed for a playoff race.
Unfortunately, a couple of injuries kept Len out for most of last season and not looking right on the floor when he did play. Len missed summer league last season and entered this summer in Vegas with something to prove, only to pick up a finger injury that would see him only make one appearance. Well, now at least Len would make his preseason debut in year two right? Wrong. Len would pick up the same sort of finger injury in practice and would miss most of his chance to grow in the offseason.
The setup in narrative here is important because you could feel (some) Suns fans expectations getting lower and lower and wondering if their big man of the future would ever even be healthy enough to prove his potential. As it turns out, those fans have gotten just that. Len was terrific on Friday night against his childhood idol Tim Duncan and showed so much to his defensive game that has so many people excited.
This is the part of the film study where I would blabber on some stats to prove my point, but we are only three games into the season. That's not really important here, as Len has shown so much to us already in his play to prove his worth. I'm going to be using almost all of the clips here against the Spurs because I feel those are so much more valuable than clips against the Lakers or the Jazz. Now it's time for us to come together and get even more excited if that was possible.
This is going to be a defensive showcase here, so if you're not a fan of that I am sorry. Len had two blocks in his first two games and both were very impressive in showing what he can do as a defensive force down low.
Here is Kobe Bryant sizing up Marcus Morris and planning out where he can take his contested fadeaway. Len is keeping an eye on the action because he is responsible for rim protection.
Kobe tried one little move and Morris stayed with him, but Len still finds himself making his space known. Kobe sees this and backs it up for a second. That means missing Wayne Ellington wide open on the other corner. This is a slight overrotation by Len and Markieff Morris will come over and tell Len to slide back a bit.
Len is back where he should be and Kobe gets by Marcus as he should. Markieff is the man to keep an eye on here as he actually comes over for the closeout and leaves Kobe with two passes to choose from.
Kobe goes for the simple handoff and all is left is Ed Davis against Len. Len slides over and gets ready to jump because he knows Davis will capitalize on the space right away.
If you are going to take anything away from reading this, it should be that Len is really freaking long. All Len does here is go straight up and he still gets the block. That's how long he is. Good solid defense. Now, everyone wave bye bye to the very bad Lakers and let's move on to some real competition. Bye Kobe!
The Spurs run a really cool double screen set for Manu rolling to the left. Eric Bledsoe is really fast, but even he can't get through this. Len is left with the responsibility of stopping Ginobli.
Bledsoe has just gotten around the screens so now it's all up to Len. He steps up and makes himself known. The thing you really need to remember is that Len is 7'1". Guys this tall are not supposed to be able to move like this and be confident in their ability to stop a dribbling guard at the elbow. Len's agility for his size allows for this to happen.
Manu sees a floater in his future and I see PAIN. LOTS AND LOTS OF PAIN.
Manu usually has enough space and quickness in his release to get this off, but Len is so long and agile himself that he rises quickly and blocks the shot.
Former Suns great Shaquille O' Neal has been known to let the world know that when a big man has some easy buckets that it is barbecue chicken. Tim Duncan on basically a rookie should be that and it quite honestly was on a couple of possessions, but Len had a nice possession here.
Duncan squares up here with the ball and Len prepares himself against a hall of famer. Len does a great job of moving his hands with the ball to create as little space as possible for Duncan if he wants to try to bank in his signature shot.
Now Duncan decides to back the youngin down to create space. Two attempts yield little result so the handoff to Manu is the plan B.
Manu gets off a really weird twisting lefy floater that even Len can't get out to in time. Another thing you notice about Len is that he realizes his range when it comes to challenges like this. If he can't get there to block or severely alter the shot, he's going to keep his rebounding position inside.
Ginobli misses, Len goes up strong, swings those elbows and his body around in a 180 spin, and gets the ball to Goran Dragic to start the fast break. It's the little things sometimes.
Pick and roll defense is pretty important for a big man. Here is Parker coming off of the screen and Len asserts himself at the free throw line. It's key to look at the line at the bottom and see that Len is doing this in super crunch time against the defending champs.
These two slides here show the presence that Len can bring to the floor. Parker is a smart man and I assume that he remembers Manu's floater being blocked earlier. Len's presence here on the two slides give Parker nowhere to try to pull up for a jumper and the defense traps him at the elbow.
Now the possession has ended in a contested three pointer by Manu. Len has this really creative and nifty trick on box outs where he doesn't gamble on the half second it takes to turn around and box out, and instead he just shoves himself into his opposition to deny them space. It's not exactly perfect for all siutations, but when the Spurs only have one true offensive rebounder on the floor in Duncan it works. He keeps Duncan away from the play but...
It goes wrong. A long rebound occurs here and Markieff gets a piece of it, but the ball is going out of bounds. Remember. Seven. Foot. One. Len attempts to save the ball.
In one motion, Len hustles to the ball, grabs the rebound, jumps, turns, and throws the pass to Isaiah Thomas. It's not an amazing play or anything, but the kid continues to show how athletic he is for his size.
The Alex Len Three Part Extravaganza That Probably Won The Suns The Game
Look at the time. This is a giant possession. Len starts on Duncan by pulling a man in the wild move of just asserting his complete size by putting both hands up and challenging Duncan in any way possible. Once again, not a big deal for most, but Len's length is another story and it makes Duncan do a little bit more here.
Eventually, this possession ends on a miss and look who is there for the rebound. Len does this cool play with his length when he knows he's going to be able to reach the ball. He runs his body into the opposition to create more space for himself and deny them any chance of getting the ball. He did it twice last night and it's a cool move.
On the way down the Suns are looking to begin closing this game out. It's important to note where Len is right now because some big men would just end their possession there. Len stays active though and keeps himself involved.
He creeps towards the basket and a missed Markieff fadeaway here puts this rebound into Duncan's hands most likely. However, Len stays active and looks to disrupt.
Duncan misreads the ball a little bit and all of a sudden there is Len pulling a Tyson Chandler and batting the ball out to the backcourt. Len was in the right place at the right time a TON last night, and eventually you've just got to put that past luck and the guy just having a nose for the ball.
Fresh possession. You know what comes next. Pick and roll with Bledsoe. Len rolls.
Len takes two giant steps and Duncan being his age forces Kawhi Leonard to come over to help. Once again, this is a massive man pulling this off. In one fluid motion...
Len swoops around Kawhi and Duncan and feeds Markieff. Look at the second slide. Look at where Kawhi and Duncan are. They are frozen. Len's got a lot of offensive potential and a little pass like this helps the Suns pull out a win and has the Suns possibly looking at a future center who could get some assists.
What we can conclude from three games of Lensanity is that he is starting to bring promise to all of the potential he has. Len struggled with foul trouble Saturday night against the Jazz, but he still had 4 blocks and was the only source of interior defense the entire night. Some of us speculated in the offseason that Len could eventually challenge for the starting center spot before the season was over, but I don't think any of us thought it could come before the end of November.
Len is on his way to that spot and there's no reason to think he won't get it besides his health history so far in the NBA. He gives the Suns much more on the interior defensively and that's not even presenting how much better he could be offensively than Miles Plumlee. Plumlee's post ups are one of the most confusing and inefficient sets the Suns run and his 0.5 assists per game don't help out either. It's very early, but Len just seems flat out better on both ends in three games this season.
The main thing to take away from the beginning of Lensanity is the Suns will have improvement at the center position. Len brings good play on both ends and will continue to challenge Plumlee for the starting position. At the very least, the Suns are going to have their bench play be even better with Len joining the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green, and Marcus Morris. At its highest potential, Len can have a significant impact defensively while making enough plays offensively to be a game changer like he was against the Spurs on Friday night. We won't know where Len lands on that spectrum for a while, but this is the start of finding out.