When you’re a top five pick in the NBA draft, the expectations are high. You’re either clearly ready or nearly ready to be a star in the NBA, or you’re a guy with “upside” who could be a huge success or a huge bust. When the Suns drafted Maryland center Alex Len with the fifth pick in 2013, they knew they were getting the latter.
Len showed potential in his sophomore year, averaging 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. He was characterized by his size ( 7’1″ tall, 7.35′ wingspan), his soft touch around the basket and his ability to set screens. He was by no means flawless, but he was considered by some to have the hugest upside in the draft. Thus far, Len has not been too impressive. He’s spent much of the season on the bench recovering from ankle surgery and has struggled to contribute on a nightly basis. He has played in 23 games this season, averaging 2.1 points and 2.6 rebounds.
Was he the right pick? I would argue yes.
The identity the Suns were constructing was one that lacked size. They needed a player who could man the interior while also being able to keep up with a fast team. Alex Len fit that bill. He has a good combination of speed and size, which is something even the Suns of the Nash-D’Antoni days didn’t have. Of course, the plan was for him to use that combo in a way that made a major contribution. So far, that hasn’t been the reality.
But don’t count him out yet.
There are several reasons to have faith in Len and give him a break. The 2013 draft class has not been impressive with a few exceptions. While I believe he will become a very good player, his draft position was ultimately inflated due to a weak crop. He was never expected to be a superstar, so it’s not like he’s a disappointment. He is exactly what the Suns thought he would be: A big man that had potential but needed lots of time to harness it. His injury didn’t help. Playing time is important for a guy to grow into a seasoned NBA player, and his development was delayed.
But the biggest reason to maintain faith in Len: He is making progress.
Despite his unimpressive stats and apparent lack of confidence, his commitment and willingness to play hard isn’t in doubt, which is good. He’s incrementally getting more and more minutes as time goes on, and he is trying.
Where Len has been valuable is on defense. He’s big and tough, and the fact that he’s standing in the paint is enough to make opposing players think twice before driving. Thats important for a team that desperately needs some interior defense.
Alex Len hasn’t stuffed stat sheets in his rookie year, and he can certainly improve in a lot of areas. That said, Suns fans should have patience with him. The skills he’s starting to show are ones the Suns particularly need, and he will only get better as he earns Jeff Hornacek’s trust and gets more minutes.
If there’s one last reason to believe that Alex Len was the right pick for the Suns, it is that Ryan McDonough has been right about pretty much everything so far.