Suns 'being patient' in development of rookie center Alex Len


PHOENIX — It’s not the operative word a collective fan base wants to hear when talking about a No. 5 overall pick, but it’s a fitting one for Phoenix Suns rookie center Alex Len, who has more surgeries under his belt than NBA regular season games.

The word is patience and it’s being uttered around every nook and cranny inside US Airways Center these days in reference to the 7-foot-1 Ukrainian.

Even before Len went under the knife back in July for the second time in a span of three months, the former Maryland standout was considered a rare project lottery pick.

At 257 pounds, Len has a very solid build, terrific length, rare athleticism for his size and an ability to finish at the rim. What he’s not, though, is a polished center, the type of guy who can bang down low on the post for 30 to 40 minutes a night at both ends. His instincts on the glass are not bad, but he’s not yet a terror on the glass, either.

Still, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough made one thing clear on draft night.

“When Alex was there [at No. 5], the decision was clear,” McDonough said. “It was very unpredictable. I think everybody, starting at No. 1 with Cleveland, nobody was really sure what they were doing even when they were on the clock. It didn’t give us a whole lot of time to prepare.

“Frankly, I thought Alex would be gone in the first four picks, because we did have him ranked higher than where he was picked at five.”

There were those — be it fans or pundits — who thought the smarter pick would have been either Nerlens Noel out of Kentucky or Ben McLemore out of Kansas. It’s a thought that was magnified throughout the summer, as Len’s lone appearance in a Suns uniform came in a fashion show rather than in the Las Vegas Summer League.

But the boot and the surgeries are a thing of the past, at least as far as the organization is concerned. Now, the focus is on grooming Len to start the season as Marcin Gortat’s backup.

“We’re being patient with him as we bring him back,” said McDonough. “He said the ankles haven’t felt any pain. If he feels any soreness, we might hold him out time to time.”

So far, so good for the rookie.

Len, who admitted at Suns Media Day that his primarily goals during training camp and the preseason were ‘to get healthy and to get back in shape,’ has shown some positive signs through his first three games in the Association.

Less than a month after he was ‘cleared for contact,’ Len has participated in all three of Phoenix’s exhibition games, averaging 4.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game in 18.3 minutes of work. In Sunday’s seven-point win against the San Antonio Spurs, he played a season-high 25 minutes and led the team with nine boards.

It’s all part of the process for the 2013 first-round pick. It’s a process that best-case scenario means he’s taking over the starting job come February or worst-case scenario taking over the spot come 2014-15.

The ironic thing, too, is that arguably the biggest supporter Len will have this season is the man he’s expected to ultimately replace, Gortat.

During ESPN the Magazine’s NBA Player Mock Draft, the Polish Hammer got to play the role of Suns GM and he too thought the third-team All-ACC center was a perfect fit in the Valley.

“Hell yeah, I did,” Gortat said when asked if picked Len. “Because as a smart GM, that’s what you do. You always pick the best center in the draft. You’ll be dumbest GM not to pick a big guy like that. He’s a legit 7-foot-1 center, who can move, who can run, who can shoot the ball — he’s got a great touch around the rim.

“Quite honestly, he’s got a super bright future in this league so that is the best pick. Even if you have a decent center on a team, I would still go for him. At the end of the day, you can always get something good for a center (in a trade).”

The last line was likely as much tongue-and-cheek from Gortat as it was anything else, however it could also prove to be rather prophetic. If the Suns do end up trading the six-year veteran before the trade deadline, it’ll be because McDonough and Co. didn’t just find ‘something good for a center in a trade.’ No, it’ll mean the future (Len) is ready to become the present.

Until then, though, it’s about patience.

 

 

 

  • http://slapdoghoops.blogspot.com Slap Dog Hoops (SDH)

    I still can’t believe the Suns picked Alex len with the fifth overall pick. He was not even an All ACC Selection and his team did not even make the NCAA Tournament. I’m from maryland and I love the Terapins, but I still think the Suns boned on this one.

  • SHWAGGERT

    @slap dog. So who would you have went with at number 5. Please don’t say Noel or mclemore.

  • Scott

    Both Len and Goodwin will need probably about 2 years of development and strength training. They’re young.

    Look for them to really come online in the 2015-2016 season.

  • http://none Keith

    It was the right pick. Len needs development but you don’t pass on a center, especially when next year is rich on everything except centers. Easy pick. He doesn’t need to do that much to be one of the best centers the Suns ever had, lol. So let’s be patient.

  • Azbballfan

    Franchise centers are one of the hardest things to get in the NBA, and outside of a few exceptions, nearly every NBA title has featured at least one excellent big man

    if Nerlens Noel had a better all around game and no injury concerns then he wouldnt have fallen to number 6 to New Orleans

    we could have grabbed McLemore, but Goodwin has a chance to be just as productive

    we need to be patient

    even centers in the NBA that are now considered excellent still took time to develop and usually had ok rookie seasons

    barring some unforeseen catastrophe, Len will become a very good NBA center

    how good? well i expect him to do better eventually than Roy Hibberts 13 points 9 boards and 2 blocks

    i think Len will start getting real good minutes after the trade deadline

    alot of Suns fans like Goran Dragic right now, but how many people thought he was good when he was a rookie?

    Len has a chance at being the best center we have ever drafted outside of maybe alvin adams

    unless Len somehow does not develop, i think we got a steal

    especially if Len had come back for a junior year at Maryland

    how high would he have been next year?

    its tough to say, but you cant just give up on a player 3 preseason games into his rookie year

    hell even Beasley looked good in the preseason

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  • east coast

    The only bad move we have made this past off season we cutting Beasley- he was good for 3-5 more losses. Len was a great pick, Goodwin may have been better. I’ll be happy with a top 7 pick next draft. It’s going to be interesting to see how Hornacek wool balance winning with learning.

  • east coast

    The only bad move we have made this past off season we cutting Beasley- he was good for 3-5 more losses. Len was a great pick, Goodwin may have been better. I’ll be happy with a top 7 pick next draft. It’s going to be interesting to see how Hornacek will balance winning with learning.

  • east coast

    Sorry for the double, now triple, post gang

  • DBreezy

    To me the the thing that question that gets overlooked with the Len/BMac/Noel thing is motor. Yes injury history is important with bigs, but that is what it is once your docs check a guy out. Oden and Bowie aside most of the time it’s really about the length of a career than if a guy can play at all in most cases.

    Motor is pretty much impossible to teach though, and it’s huge for what big men are asked to do. You have to have heart to mix it up inside, to aggressively cover ground in defensive schemes against quick wings who can’t be touched these days, and to improve. Most young bigs have poor offensive fundamentals because they’ve been able to dominate players in high school and the collegiate game today rarely requires them to be offensive factors in their limited time in school. If they are to overcome that in that league, they must have a strong motor. I think it’s becoming clearer that is what many teams missed on with Drummond.

    Motor is absolutely not a question for Noel, but it’s a big reason BMac slid on draft day. That said people are always willing to take a flyer on a shooter because theoretically they still be good shooters even if they don’t have the will to be more. Martell Webster seems to be a good example of that. We’ll see what we’ve got with Len as motor has been somewhat of a mystery with him in the past. As we read reports of Drummond shooting 75% from the strip so far, I think it’s silly to think raw talented guys like him and Noel can’t improve. Suns fans who watched Amar’e for so long know that. So at this point I don’t really care about Len’s size or touch vs Noel, I want to know what’s in his heart as that will likely be the biggest factor in if he was the right pick or not.

  • Scott

    @east coast -

    That’s pretty much the way I see it.

    @DBreezy -

    What’s important is what’s in his heart and in his head, as well as his body. All 3 are needed.

    IMO, Len should be fine so long as his body holds up. And in saying that, I’m not meaning to say his body won’t, it’s just that of the 3, the body is probably the weakest link, which is the way it should be for competitors.

  • DBreezy

    @Scott,

    All three are needed but motor is still the biggest with bigs IMO. Foreveris and I have has this convo a million times, but I still think DeAndre Jordan is a different player if he is drafted by the Suns playing with Amar’e, Shaq, Grant, and Nash for Gentry then going to the Clips under Dunleavy and crew. Bigs take so much work to be good and many of them settle for just being strong on the defensive end these days because they get so much acclaim for it: Chandler, Ibaka, Noah, and even Howard.