If you like players who are average to below average at just about everything then Alex Len is your guy.
If you were hoping that Len would bring some clarity to his future with the Phoenix Suns you finished this season unfulfilled.
While Alex absolutely improved on his performance from his seismically shaky 2015-16 season, 2016-17 did little but show that he is still a below average center based on others around the league who share his workload.
Unfortunately for Alex, he continues to be a victim of expectations. If he had went later in the first round his progress wouldn’t be as squarely under the microscope as it has been and the analysis wouldn’t be nearly as captious. But he was drafted fifth overall and is saddled with the accompanying scrutiny.
While Len’s raw numbers dipped slightly, from 9.0 points per game to 8.0 and from 7.6 rebounds per game to 6.6, his per 36 numbers were relatively static and his offensive efficiency improved dramatically.
Before the season began there were those writing for BSotS who were openly questioning whether Len could manage a feeble 45% from the field this year after a woeful 42.3% the previous season. He easily topped that mark, hitting at a clip of 49.7%, but as it turns out that is still not really getting it done.
Among his peers, Len finished 19th in FG%. Using TS% to account for free throws and three pointers still put Alex at just 18th.
Out of the 24 players in the NBA who qualified for leader boards based on minutes played and are classified as true centers, Len was below average in nearly every way.
Per 17th (15.0 - which is considered exactly average), TRB% 13th, Block% 4th, TO% 17th, ORtg 21st, DRtg 18th and WS/48 19th.
Len was 23rd among the centers in value over replacement player at 0.1, which means that Len was basically a complete non-factor.
Len didn’t just fall short in comparison to other players around the league, either. He ended up in a battle for minutes with Alan Williams, who joined the team last season as an undrafted free agent.
Over the last 23 games of the season, after Tyson Chandler was shut down, Len lost that battle.
While Alex Len was still the starter over this period, Williams routinely played more minutes and routinely outperformed him. Over that stretch Williams averaged 11.2 points and 9.3 rebounds while Len managed just 9.0 and 7.0. Williams recorded 12 double doubles while Len had just three.
Len probably didn’t help his market value by losing minutes to a guy making $874,000, but this is the NBA... and being tall tends to make players significantly overvalued. Underperforming bigs command more money than mediocre players at other positions.
While Len and Howard aren’t exactly in the same stratosphere, I think it’s highly probable that Len’s agent will be pitching him as worth more than players like Leuer and Plumlee.
If someone makes an offer like that for restricted free agent Len his performance has done little to make the Suns enthusiastic about matching it. It might make a lot more sense to look for a bargain that could replace most or all of Len’s production for pennies on the dollar.
I think that ultimately by not taking enough of a step forward Len took a step back. On a floundering team his goals were too show improvement and help bring clarity to his future with the team... and he didn’t do enough of either.
He turns 24 next month and has done little to show that he will ever be more than a competent back up center. While there are worse things than that, based on where he was drafted, Alex’s time with the Suns has been largely a disappointment.
Even if his career path is as a backup I’m not sure Len is a great asset, because he doesn’t specialize at any specific skill. He doesn’t have one thing he does at a very good level. Despite his size he isn’t a fearsome defender. He doesn’t have great hands and his “knockdown jumper” has never developed to the point that he can provide an offensive spark in limited minutes.
The Suns are probably better off parting ways with Len. It will be interesting to see if that happens since it would be an admission of a failed draft. Ryan McDonough’s first draft. Will he be able to admit his mistake and move on?
After all, the longer the Suns stay stuck on a failed plan A the longer it will take them to move on to what could be a successful plan B.
Alex Len’s grade for the 2016-17 season is pretty easy to peg.
Slightly below average.