Suns: Why Alex Len’s Breakout Season Could Come In A Bench Role

Oct 9, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) defends Utah Jazz forward Chris Johnson (23) after catching a rebound in the second half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns defeat the Jazz 101-85. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 9, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) defends Utah Jazz forward Chris Johnson (23) after catching a rebound in the second half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns defeat the Jazz 101-85. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports /
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Sep 28, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns center Tyson Chandler (left) and center Alex Len pose for a portrait during media day at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Len Giving Back To His Mentor

It’s not just about what Chandler is providing Len. It’s not even just about what Len will provide off the bench. For the 33-year-old Chandler, Len represents his first chance at playing with another big of his caliber, one who can relieve him of the heavier minutes he’d normally have to play as the starter.

“We feel with Tyson and Alex going up against these guys that we’re pretty solid at that position,” Hornacek said. “There’ll be nights when Tyson is playing some bigger minutes and there’ll be some nights where Alex plays like this and we just leave him in and give Tyson a break. That combination is gonna be really good for us protecting the basket.”

As Chandler himself acknowledged, Len is already far more advanced than Tyson was at that point his career. Len showed off a few nice-looking hook shots against Utah, and though not all of them fell, he was decisive with the ball and his defenders didn’t have any chance of stopping him.

Because Len also spent the summer working on his jump shot, he brings another element to the team’s spacing every time he steps on the floor. Len knocked down a couple of open midrange jumpers against the Jazz, making it look like something he’d been doing his whole career.

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  • The Suns like what they see from Len’s improved jumper, but they don’t want him to get too dependent on it.

    “We want him to mix that up, we don’t want him to rely on that, though,” Hornacek said. “We want him to roll to the basket because then that opens up other things. If he can knock down that shot, maybe late in shot clock when they’re scrambling around, that’s gonna be a big help for us.”

    Len understands the need for balance and patience when it comes to his developing offensive game.

    “I wanna see what defenses give me,” he said. “If I see I can get to my shot or to my jump hook or whatever it is, I go. If I ain’t got nothing on offense, I kick it out.”

    But perhaps just as importantly, Len’s ability to come in and trade blows with starting-caliber centers will allow the Suns to properly manage Chandler’s minutes, potentially saving him so he’s fresh for the postseason if Phoenix reaches its goal.

    Last night’s 21-point performance may not seem like much, but it was telling about the direction this promising seven-footer is heading in under a seasoned veteran like Tyson Chandler. In a reduced role, Len has a chance to dominate lesser competition and build his confidence up in that way, which is crucial for a young player.

    This may be the first time in franchise history where the Suns can trot out a Twin Towers lineup of this caliber. Even if Hornacek doesn’t use it, the fact that the Suns have that kind of lineup in their back pocket speaks volumes about the talent and depth at the center position, as well as Len’s potential — even in a bench role.

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