Suns’ Alex Len understands what he needs to do in re-do of contract year
PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns’ No. 5 overall selection in the 2013 NBA Draft did not have his summer of restricted free agency go according to plan.
Coming out of Maryland, the 20-year-old Alex Len was advertised as a dynamic, skilled, mobile big man.
He was talented enough to not only do his usual duties as a seven-footer but also incorporate other elements into his game, such as operating out of the high post.
That player has never come to fruition, and after a brutal 2016-17 campaign, it’s clear the prospects of seeing that player are little to none.
Even then, Len was always speaking like he was still that prospect, talking about working on his passing and other aspects of his game at exit interviews last season when he’s a lifetime 46.5 percent shooter as a center.
That season, along with money tightening up in free agency, led to Len accepting the team’s $4.2 million qualifying offer that will make him an unrestricted free agent in 2018. The deal was officially announced less than 24 hours before the team’s media day.
No matter what you think of Len as a player, you can agree that it must have been a rough experience to go through.
“It was a long summer, frustrating kind of,” Len said Monday at the team’s media day.
What the numbers show is that while Len struggles as a finisher, he can still be a very good rim protector and rebounder. The trouble was, he never seemed focus on changing his outlook as a player from that dynamic big to a more simplified version of himself.
With that being said, Len now sounds like a changed man. He’s no longer talking about three-pointers or playmaking, and it sounds like it has to do with what he heard around the league.
“But at the same time (the summer) was good,” Len said. “I got a lot of great feedback from other teams and going through the season I know what things I need to do, where I need to improve on, what I need to show to other teams so I’m excited to get back with the team and get things rolling.”
Len would later clarify what he meant, sticking with the notion of simplifying his game.
“Not doing too much, don’t learn too many different moves, just stick to simple stuff,” Len said.
“Just get good at it, not just work on a lot of things, just work on a few things but getting really good at it.”
It’s difficult to articulate how this apparent change in mindset will impact the Suns because it’s even more challenging to imagine Len as the team’s long-term center.
Taking that into consideration, the team does not have that piece yet outside of power forwards Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. If the right combination of Len improving and being affordable next summer was to mix together, then perhaps Len still has a future in Phoenix.
For now, though, he’s right back where he left off at this time last year, looking to prove to the Suns and other teams he’s not a bust and worth a long-term deal.