PHOENIX — If seeing is believing, then Phoenix Suns center Alex Len now has 23 minutes of tape that could help him realize how great he can be. All it took was a demotion.
The Suns’ signing of veteran center Tyson Chandler took pressure off Len by moving him to the bench unit, but a 21-point outing in Phoenix’s 101-85 preseason win against the Utah Jazz on Friday gave Len evidence of what the team hopes he can become.
Len was described as having confidence and a bounce in his step by coach Jeff Hornacek and his teammates afterward.
There’s still a long way to go and it begins with realizing his potential. Leading the charge for that goal is Chandler, the man who planted Len firmly on the second unit.
“He doesn’t understand how great he can be,” Chandler said of Len. “He can do it all. He has right hand, left hand, soft touch, jump shot, a big long body. That’s tough in this league. For me it’s just confidence. Everyday I’m just trying to make him work so he can continue to get comfortable.”
For all the illusions preseason NBA basketball brings, Len’s evening — which included six rebounds, three blocks and two steals — became an example of the success the young Suns center could have come the regular season.
But for what it’s worth, the soft-spoken Len doesn’t look too far into his future.
“I just try to work hard and do the little things,” he said. “That’s what I worked on, being patient, reading the game. I make decisions better, a little quicker.”
What the Suns want out of the center position as a whole shined against the Jazz. While Chandler matched up with Rudy Gobert, the 27th selection and 22 picks after Len in the 2013 draft, Len abused 25-year-old rookie Tibor Pleiss and 2013’s 39th draft choice, Jeff Withey. Neither proved much of a roadblock.
Len finished through two and-one plays in the first quarter, hit two mid-range jumpers and finished the first-half scoring with a tip-dunk. A one-dribble drive and left-handed running hook rimmed out for his first miss of the game. Overall, Len showed signs he’s come along in the strength department as well as the confidence one, and the Suns’ touting of Chandler’s mentorship doesn’t appear to be bluster.
What does Chandler do to push his protege?
“I talk a lot of (smack),” the veteran said. “I pump him up. I stay in his ear. I feel like there’s no young player like him out there to be honest. He’s one of the young great big men in the league. He doesn’t know yet, the league doesn’t know yet. But they soon will.”
Chandler already knew teaching the 22-year-old Len was part of the gig if he signed with Phoenix as a free agent. He wanted that challenge and said playing with Len everyday has only impressed him more.
“I got a lot of love and respect for the way he handled me coming in,” Chandler added. “I want to help him as much as possible.”
“I won $200 dollars for that.” – Markieff Morris on taking two charges
– Guard Eric Bledsoe sat out to rest Friday. Brandon Knight, Archie Goodwin, T.J. Warren, Markieff Morris and Chandler got the start.
– Morris scored 18 points in 16 minutes against the large Utah front line of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. He hit two of three three-point shots in the first six minutes of the game, then began pump-faking and taking the ball to the rim. Morris finished by shooting 7-of-10 shots to match Len.
– Len is being asked to dive to the rim stronger. That said, the Suns want him to take what he’s given. “When you rim-run, don’t run just to the rim,” Len said. “Give what the defender gives you and seal him off.”
– Second-year forward T.J. Warren got the start so the Suns could see him match up with Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, who scored 24 points in 32 minutes.