You could discount the statistics as a product of a tanking team trying to develop a young big man, but that would be a disservice to Phoenix Suns center Alex Len. The truth is that since the All-Star break nearly half the league has been trying to develop their young players for next year. And the other half would love their best big man to be putting up the numbers Len has posted for the Suns.
Alex Len has joined rare air in posting an average of 17 points and 12 rebounds per game since the break, and has nine straight 10+ rebound games (8 of those are double-doubles).
In 12 games since the break, Len is posting numbers that only Anthony Davis, Hassan Whiteside, DeMarcus Cousins and Pau Gasol are matching or bettering.
Of the five big men, Len's hold on the spot is the most tenuous of course. Len has doubled his career averages with this run of games.
- In 2014-15 where he started 44 of 69 games, Len only posted 6.3 points and 6.6 rebounds in 22 minutes.
- Over the first half of this season, he posted only 6.9 points and 6.2 rebounds in 19.5 minutes per contest.
- Since the break, though, and the trade of Markieff Morris that opened up a starting spot and a need for scoring, Len has broken out to the tune of 17.1 points and 12.2 rebounds in less than 31 minutes.
Pau Gasol has been putting up numbers like 17 and 12 for more than a decade. DeMarcus Cousins for his whole career. Same with Anthony Davis. Even Hassan Whiteside has done this for two seasons now.
Diving into the numbers a bit, Len has the worst shooting percentage among the group (41.6%) mainly due to taking so many midrange shots and creating offense from a post-up position as the power forward in the Suns lineup. He averages the fewest blocks (0.7) and most personal fouls (3.9) of the group.
Can Alex Len sustain this run? With the return of Brandon Knight to the lineup and the recuperation of Devin Booker from hitting the rookie wall, you might think the Suns don't need prolific scoring from Len any more. But then again, in the same game that Brandon Knight scored 30 points against the Warriors, Len posted 26 points of his own. This while Devin Booker still got 19 shots up and collected 11 assists.
Next year could be different for Len from an offensive standpoint, after the returns of Eric Bledsoe and T.J. Warren to the rotation, as well as the indoctrination of a top draft pick. All of those players will be more likely to score than Alex Len.
What the Suns need long-term from Len is his rebounding. He's always been a very good rebounder, but he's stepped it up even more in the past month. Among those playing at least 18 minutes per game, Len is 8th in the league in rebound % since the break.
Among those top rebounders, you see where Alex Len stands out. Most players with higher rebound rates are much less skilled offensively (Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert) or are sieves defensively (David Lee, Enes Kanter).
Len currently owns a string of nine straight 10+ rebounds games, a feat not beaten by any Phoenix Suns player since Marcin Gortat in 2012 and not bested by a 22 year old in a Suns uniform since Shawn Marion 15 years ago.
Len has the potential to be a defensive stalwart. Even in this lost season, and while defending the rim against relentless drives by guards blowing by Brandon Knight, Archie Goodwin and Devin Booker, Len is still giving up only 50% shooting and is one of the best on the team at keeping opponents at or below their average field goal rate.
Len is finally healthy, and finally showing why he might have been one of the best prospects in the 2013 Draft. Most of us would have preferred a Rudy Gobert or Giannis Antetokounmpo, given what's happened since the draft, but Len is right up there the best talents out of that draft and profiles to have an excellent future in the NBA.
Watching Alex Len develop into a reliable big man on both ends of the court is one of those developments sorely needed on a team deep in the throes of a rebuild.