In the Bright Side of the Sun "Huge Round Table Part 1" article there were questions posed about what the season holds for different players. Brandon Knight's was, "Will he be sixth man of the year?" Devin Booker's was, "Will he make the All-Star team?"
Alex Len's was, "Will he shoot over 45% in the paint?"
My favorite response was, "I have a hard time buying that Len will shoot over 45% on dunks at this point."
That is a microcosm of Len's current station on the Suns, taking his turn as the current team whipping boy and focal point of mockery and derision. I think in this case, unlike with some other players (notably one who a critic hoped was bitten by shark), a lot of the criticism is absolutely deserved.
Part of the lamentation with Len is based on where he was selected in the draft. After all, if Len had been signed as an undrafted free agent his performance might only be a mild disappointment. Going in the first round at #5 overall makes the evaluation a little more scrutinous.
Not only has Len underperformed based on reasonable expectations from where he was drafted, a team really has to be counting on getting more than the Suns have drafting from that position, but he has also been outperformed by the rest of his draft class (that all went after him) at his position.
Per 100 Possessions
Out of this group of first round centers Len has the:
worst career +/- ORtg/Drtg 99-105 = -6
worst career FG% .451
worst career TS% .501
worst career PER 12.4
worst career WS/48 .064
In fact, the only player who doesn't have at least twice as many career win shares as Len is Noel, who missed a season and still has more.
Even a Len apologist will have a hard time arguing that Len isn't making a strong case for last place on this list. This is over three years, though... so maybe Len doesn't look quite as bad under the prism of last season?
Alex Len Per 100 Possessions
Yeah... not so much.
Last year Alex Len jumped the shark (but wasn't bit by it) by having the most underwhelming season of his underwhelming career.
His .423 FG% was 292nd in the league and 81st out of 89 centers.
His PER 12.4 was 278th.
His WS/48 .035 was 369th.
His +/- ORtg/Drtg was -11.
He was terrible.
Alex is now entering his fourth season and the last year of his rookie contract, even though he really looked like a rookie in lots of ways again last year. Len is 23 years old. Teammates Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss are 19. Len is even older than T.J. Warren, who was a much more accomplished college player and seemed to be trending upward before an injury abruptly ended his 2015-16 season.
Len is entering a contract year.
Back in August Dave King wrote a thoughtful and impartial piece about Alex Len's market value. Unfortunately, his peer comparison for that analysis didn't include the rookie class I listed above, but players like Miles Plumlee and Festus Ezeli. Be careful not to trip on that bar.
Dave did note that Alex showed improvement in the second half of last season, averaging a double double (13 points and 10 rebounds) after the All-Star break. Len also set career highs in many raw number categories, but I think advanced statistics paint a better picture here. In this case, higher volume isn't a good thing. It's just more of a bad thing.
Len's performance this year will greatly impact the contract he ultimately receives as a restricted free agent next summer. He could cost or earn himself upwards of tens of millions of dollars.
If he falls on his face could the Suns actually let him walk after taking him #5 overall just four years earlier?
It's time for Len to show that he can at least be an above average backup center, let alone a quality starter. To achieve at least a measure of the ephemeral potential that has gotten him this far.
As a card carrying doom merchant I won't be holding my breath for that to happen.
It's possible to "light at the end of the tunnel" this whole situation, though, and point at the end of last season and Len's improved health as things he can build on and carry momentum into the season.
So far those things haven't really correlated to preseason success. He sat during the team's last game against Dallas, but before that had failed to really have a signature game.
His best statistical performance was 15 points (9-10 FT) and 7 rebounds against Utah before fouling out, but he played poorly in the early going and padded those stats against Utah's deep bench. Len failed to reach double figures in the other three contests.
Sure, preseason is probably slightly below worthless as a true measure of performance, but Len is a combined 9-26 from the field. That's just south of 35%.
I would be absolutely ecstatic if Alex has a breakout season...
But at this point I'd settle for just being whelmed.