PHOENIX — To call Phoenix Suns center Alex Len’s first taste of professional basketball rough might be an understatement — by any standard statistical or otherwise.
He had more ankles surgeries over the last year (2) than double-digit scoring performances (0). His PER (7.2) wasn’t only the worst on the team but less than half the league average (15.0).
Thirty-six rookies saw more playing time in 2013-14, including one — Archie Goodwin — who was drafted by the same team 24 spots later in the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft, so it’s safe to say his high fives were more prevalent than his highlights.
Of course, there was also the surgery setback and subsequent 30-game absence through the first week of the calendar year, the 16-minute clunker he closed the season with and a lot of watching in between.
If Miles Plumlee’s sophomore progression is any indication, maybe sitting on the pine and taking in the NBA from a distance won’t be such a bad thing for Len.
Then again, the No. 5 overall pick didn’t exactly answer many questions in the 42 games he did appear in.
In fact of the lottery player taken in last year’s draft, the only picks that showed less were Minnesota’s Shabazz Muhammad, Washington’s Otto Porter and Philadelphia’s Nerlens Noel — didn’t play a single game in an effort to recover from an ACL injury suffered at Kentucky.
Without proper seasoning in the Las Vegas Summer League and a true training camp — participated but first real introduction to coaching staff and teammates — to really sink his teeth into the task at hand, the former Maryland standout spent much of his rookie season looking like a fish out of water.
“It was frustrating, but it was part of it,” Len said when asked if the setbacks and pressure of living up to his first-round selection led to the uneven results. “When I found out my second ankle, I had to get surgery, I had to miss an extra few months, it hurt a lot. It is what it is. I look forward. I don’t like to look back.”
That’s probably in his best interest, seeing as there weren’t a lot of positive memories to get all that nostalgic about.
It wasn’t all bad for the Ukranian. He showed flashes of his athleticism and defensive prowess with a handful of impressive blocks. His awareness as a help-side defender was definitely put on display, as was his ability to go up and grab boards amongst the fray.
And, while featured in a rather small sample size, Len did show nice touch on occasion with jump shots right around the charity stripe.
But as he even admitted following the conclusion of the Suns’ magical 48-34 ride, the NBA and the ACC are two completely different animals.
“For me, the game needs to slow down,” said Len.
In order to do that, the 7-foot-1 center’s body must hold up, because in a league where no favors are granted, Len desperately needs to play catch-up after an incomplete first impression.
Plumlee’s surprising emergence made Len’s uninspiring first season a subplot rather than a major story line, but for a team that could have used more production out of the center position down the stretch, the first-round pick’s inability to garner Jeff Hornacek’s trust when it came to handling meaningful responsibility — two total minutes during April’s first seven games — unquestionably hurt.
Playoff teams require depth, something Len admits he won’t be able to provide until he undergoes a bit of a body transformation.
“I need to get stronger to be able to bang with those guys,” said Len, who plans to stay in the United States for the summer rather than returning to the tumultuous situation facing his home country of Ukraine.
“I’m excited [to work this summer], definitely. I want to play. I haven’t played in almost a year. Just excited to get better and come back next year and make the playoffs.”