Alex Len’s stint with the Phoenix Suns was a roller coaster. In the beginning, many thought he would turn into a starting-caliber big man who not only provided nightly double-doubles, but also hold his own defensively. By the end, many Suns fans were anxious for the former lottery pick to find another team.
Well, Len now believes if he ended up in a different situation other than Phoenix, he wouldn’t have endured the early struggles. Interesting to say the least.
“I would have been way ahead of where I’m at right now, like that’s not even crazy to say,” Len told Chris Kirschner of The Athletic.
Len explained that the Suns’ coaching staff would tell him each offseason they were excited to expand his game. According to Len, the coaches would go away from the previously discussed plan once the regular season began, which made the top-five pick’s all-around growth stagnate.
Instead of the Suns’ staff helping Len along the way, the 7-footer treated his offseason period as the time to really explore new ways to improve on his own.
“I did learn how to run around and set good screens and work on my rebounding. That’s really it,” Len said of his time in Phoenix.
The big man from Ukraine knew the writing was on the wall after his third season with the Suns. After drafting both Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss in the top 10, Len’s time in Phoenix would be coming to an end sometime soon.
Following the 2016-17 season, where Len’s minutes per game dropped from 23.3 to 20.3, Phoenix slapped the qualifying offer on him. Instead of accepting it after the first few waves of free agency concluded, Len decided to drag it out all the way until days before training camp opened.
Right then and there, you knew the relationship between the Suns and Len wasn’t the best. Len was waiting as long as he could to find an offer, but, as we’ve seen countless times, the restricted tag scares plenty of teams away.
Len went on to average 8.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks in 20.2 minutes for Phoenix in 2017-18, arguably his most productive season yet where he flashed marked improvement. Once the season ended, though, the Suns made no effort to re-sign Len.
Atlanta pounced on the opportunity to sign Len in mid-July to a 2-year, $8.5 million deal to be the primary backup to Dewayne Dedmon.
What was the main change for Len once he signed on the dotted line with the Hawks, though? It seemed to be allowing him to expand his shooting range. Len only attempted 25 three-pointers over five seasons in Phoenix, but it ballooned all the way up to 204 last season on his new team (3PAr — Hawks = 31.5; Suns = 1.3). Len shot 36.3 percent on those opportunities for the Hawks, which is a great clip for a big.
The primary shooting zone for Len outside of the paint with Atlanta is from the corners. Last season, 48 percent of Len’s three-pointers were corner threes where he shot an above-average clip of 37.8 percent.
Only four 7-footers had a three-point attempt rate above 30 percent during the 2018-19 campaign: Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol, Dedmon, and Len. With Dedmon now in Sacramento, Len is slated to become the Hawks’ starting center and could expand upon this unique role further.
If he does well in his new role alongside Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, and John Collins, Len has the chance to become the long-term answer there. That’s if the modern evolution of the Hawks’ roster doesn’t phase him out going full-time small ball featuring Collins at center and sliding lottery selection Cam Reddish into the starting lineup.
Certainly Len has rightful gripes about his tenure in Phoenix, but the statistical growth outside of shooting more three-pointers didn’t materialize.
It will be fascinating to follow Len in Atlanta this season, but do you agree with his comments on the Suns? Would Len’s career really be different had it not kicked off in the Valley?