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Suns’ Earl Watson: Belief in Alex Len is not wavering

Jan 24, 2017, 9:20 AM | Updated: 3:42 pm
Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game against the Ut...
Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
LISTEN: Earl Watson, Suns head coach

You can’t go more than a couple sentences into a conversation about the Phoenix Suns without the word ‘youth’ being mentioned by one of the participants.

There’s a good reason for that: The Suns have a lot of it.

Phoenix has three teenagers (Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss and Derrick Jones Jr.) on its roster. Devin Booker is still nine months away from being able to buy a beer.

Four other players are 23 or younger, including backup center Alex Len, who doesn’t get mentioned a lot when it comes to the core of players the Suns will build around moving forward.

Despite being only 23 (he’ll turn 24 in June), Len is in his fourth NBA season and has seen action in 231 games in the best league in the world. However, his future is unclear. The Suns opted not to pick up a fifth-year option on Len’s contract in October, meaning he’ll be a restricted free agent at season’s end.

But that doesn’t mean the Suns aren’t still high on the former fifth-overall pick out of Maryland.

“When he gets his opportunities, he has to make the best of them and I think he tries his best,” head coach Earl Watson told Doug and Wolf Tuesday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “Sometimes it’s difficult in shorter minutes, but we love Alex Len.

“We feel like Alex Len is the future of the center position, with Dragan Bender and maybe Marquese Chriss. With young guys, that’s a blank canvas that has to shake out.”

So if Len is the future, and the Suns are building around youth, why is Len getting reduced opportunities? The answer is quite simple: Starter Tyson Chandler is playing out of his mind.

Chandler, 34, has been one of the league’s best rebounders this season. The 16-year veteran recently had a stretch of seven straight games with 15 or more rebounds, which set a franchise record. Chandler is averaging 12.2 boards per contest, which is sixth-best in the league and would be the highest mark for a Suns player in a single season since Charles Barkley in 1992-93.

While Chandler has been flourishing, Len has put up modest numbers. Over the last eight games, Len has averaged just 14.4 minutes, six points and 4.8 rebounds. Some have suggested that maybe Len has regressed, but Watson isn’t necessarily buying into that line of thinking.

“Maybe this is just part of Alex Len’s journey,” he said. “We had these same conversations about Devin Booker early in the year. Alex had a stretch about a month or two into the season where he was playing great with two blocks per game.

“Everyone thought ‘Devin Booker, he’s not the same, he’s not the same.’ Maybe young guys and maybe people in general are not machines. Maybe we need opportunities to just be human and just go through our actions and go through our motions and go through our journey — and it’s not always going to be perfect. We believe that Alex Len, moving forward, will find a way to be more efficient, be more impactful and have big-time games down the stretch.”

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Suns’ Earl Watson: Belief in Alex Len is not wavering