Sun(day) On A Monday Suns Column: Preseason Counts For Phoenix

Oct 9, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) high fives teammate forward Mirza Teletovic (35) in the first half against the Utah Jazz at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 9, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) high fives teammate forward Mirza Teletovic (35) in the first half against the Utah Jazz at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports /

The Season Before The Season

Suns fans have to absolutely love what they have seen from Phoenix over the team’s first two preseason games. I will be the first to admit, victories in the preseason are as meaningful as a Rex Ryan Super Bowl prediction in August, but for the Suns, every win right now counts.

When an entirely new culture is being put into place and an organization is looking for 100 percent buy-in from the coaches to the players to the fan base, on-court success is key. It wasn’t just the fact that Phoenix beat Sacramento in their preseason opener, 102-98, it was how they beat them.

After trailing by double-digits for most of the first half and being outscored 40-17 by Sacramento’s starters, the Suns didn’t bother throwing in the towel on a “meaningless” preseason game. A second half rally led by Phoenix’s second group, with the starters encouraging and shouting directions on the bench, showed great character and was a refreshing difference from the Suns’ body language last season.

Fast forward to their win this past Friday against Utah. With the defensive intensity at a level higher than we saw all of last year (thank you, Tyson Chandler) and Alex Len having a coming out party (thank you again, Tyson), there was simply nothing to NOT feel good about after this victory.

Individual performances aside, there was a common denominator in both of these games that Suns nation should expect to see consistently moving forward: 110 percent effort from every player on the floor and every player on the bench.

Not only is the team buying into their new culture and attitude, the fan base is happily embracing it as well, judging by the spirited crowds at both games.

Position Of Power

Just a month ago, Markieff Morris was going to be traded or cause a serious divide in the locker room, Jon Leuer was not a viable option off the bench and Mirza Teletovic could not be a starting power forward for a team with playoff aspirations.

Wow, have times changed.

A Media Day full of politically correct answers and organization endorsements from Morris have stopped all media questioning about his allegiance to the team. Mirza Teletovic may still not be that caliber of player but he provides even more floor spacing, size and depth at a position the Suns have struggled at for years.

Jon Leuer, who impressed all training camp, exploded for 17 points and 13 rebounds, and was also charged with the murder of DeMarcus Cousins in the preseason opener, all while showing off a diverse array of post moves and perimeter shooting.

Stats out the window, and just using the preseason “eye test” (insert Skip Bayless joke here) when watching these three play, I cannot definitively say Markieff Morris should start over Jon Leuer, an unfathomable statement considering the preconceived thought of the Suns’ power forward position a month ago.

Yes, Markieff may be a better shooter and absolutely a better passer, but Leuer can shoot and take it inside, with a much, much better post game than Morris. Let’s not forget, playing on the Memphis Grizzlies, Leuer has a grinding, tough and rugged mentality on defense, which was evident watching his duel with DeMarcus Cousins.

Let there be no confusion about this argument: when Markieff is at his best, the Suns don’t have another power forward that can do what he can do. However, he has yet to show his best on a consistent basis, opening the door for the surprising Leuer and three-point specialist, Teletovic. A position that was once in disarray for the Suns is suddenly looking very promising on the eve of this NBA season.

Len(ding) A Hand

We knew Tyson Chandler was going to help the development of Alex Len, but how much? The answer to that question is currently a resounding “a lot”, because man, oh man, has Len looked good so far this preseason.

A dominating performance of 21 points and six rebounds against the Jazz’s heralded group of big men has everyone believing in the Ukranian center. Yes, it is just a single preseason game but there should be no reason to not expect big things from Len on a nightly basis, as the seven-footer won’t even be playing against starters the majority of time.

Visibly, Len looks absolutely intimidating, far, far from the slender college student that Phoenix inherited upon drafting the Maryland alum. Len’s paint presence has never been stronger, the midrange jumper is soft and smooth looking and his mobility is as fluid as it’s ever been.

It’s still early but there is no doubt, barring any injuries, this Suns team may very well have the best 1-2 center punch in the entire NBA. Oh, and bonus: If (when?) Len’s jumper and perimeter game become more consistent — allowing him to play outside of the paint on offense — a lineup consisting of both Len and Chandler may become a common occurrence. If you’re an opposing offense in that situation, good luck trying to drive to the basket.

Make no mistake, Tyson Chandler has drastically changed this team and his role will be integral to the organization moving forward, but Alex Len may be one of if not the most valuable player on the team by season’s end.

Next: Why Alex Len's Breakout Season Could Come In Bench Role

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