Alex Len will forever have to face the cold reality of his play being analyzed relative to his draft position. When the former Maryland Terrapins center was coming out of college there were huge concerns about his game. However, his size and athletic abilities trumped any potential issues, and the Phoenix Suns scooped him up with the fifth overall selection in the 2013 NBA Draft.
Hindsight is dumb. Let’s not pretend everyone knew Len was going to be a ho-hum talent. More people were on the bandwagon than off it back then. Many projected that — at the very least — Len would end up being a competent every game starter for an NBA team. While he has technically been that much, inside that vacuum of his draft position, it could be argued that he’s been closer to being a bust than he has as a true player of consequence.
Now in his third season, the still very much developing Alex Len is averaging 7 points and 6 rebounds per game. He’s also playing 19 minutes per outing and only started 14 of the 34 games he played. Meaning, even the Suns are not too sure about Alex Len as an every single game player. More or less, and it is less, Phoenix selecting him with that fifth overall pick has seemed to steal their sunshine.
You know. You remember that classic upbeat summer song that actually turned out to be about drugs from the band Len, right? Well, it is somewhat fitting that I was able to use that horrible headline because of Len’s surname and the band — as Alex Len filling of that potential he had coming out of Maryland always seems to be projected to come L-L-a-t-e-are.
As a center, it hasn’t helped that he is the opposite of efficient when he has been on the court. Only shooting 47 percent from the floor, few numbers show Len in that favorable of a light. In fact, as other large men’s numbers read like something coming out of a video game, Len’s is left looking in on them from the outside. He is, essentially, nowhere near as good as other valuable big men.
That should probably go without saying. Even the most die-hard Alex Len supporters have to realize things haven’t exactly gone smooth. Specifically, in that unfair vacuum of using his draft position to pooh-pooh his career. I mean, was he supposed to tell Phoenix to not give him millions upon millions of dollars because he wasn’t as good as scouts said?
Eh, I digress…
There’s still a glimmer of hope, however. As every scout in the history of basketball has ever said, big men traditionally take longer to develop. Len, only 22 years-old, isn’t done forming into whatever type of player he will eventually become. That doesn’t automatically mean he will become good or great, but he’s not an abomination now. He’s only that in comparison to his draft position. Outside that vacuum, he’s mostly an “okay” player.
Being “okay” isn’t the most fun thing in the world, but Alex Len isn’t Patrick O’Bryant or some other enormous mammal who only got in the NBA because of college exploits on grand stages or piss-poor scouting. He provides tangible value. Albeit, not in heavy doses or as much as Phoenix would probably like, and while he may never be an 18-points and 8-rebounds per game guy, he can most certainly end up being what he is now — but more effective (efficient).
The issue for Phoenix with Len isn’t right now, either. It is in 2017-18 when they have to decide if they are going to give him a qualifying offer. By then, at least one would hope, the Suns will have a better idea if this is the best of Alex Len they will ever get or if he can be an impacting player of sorts.
As for this particular season, well, who knows. The Suns are 12-21 and probably thought they weren’t going to be as bad as they are. Really, they likely assumed they would be fighting for a playoff seed. Not battling for a ping pong ball. Alex Len isn’t even close to their only problem. The entire team has been a debacle.
With that said, they need to decide if they are playing to win now or are willing to forfeit the season in favor of a good lottery selection.
If they go about deciding the latter, then Alex Len needs more run on the court. Let him develop on the floor while Phoenix fast-tracks to ping pong ball heaven. It would at the very least let them see if they have anything worth keeping around. If it is the former, the reality is that Len isn’t good enough right now to be on it for a team who wants to win games.
If they are honest with each other, considering their current record, it is time to start moving players and letting Alex Len play 25-30 minutes a game… if his body allows it.