Triano: Suns’ Alex Len playing with desperation in contract year

Nov 21, 2017, 12:01 PM
Phoenix Suns center Alex Len, right, rebounds against Portland Trail Blazers forward Ed Davis durin...
Phoenix Suns center Alex Len, right, rebounds against Portland Trail Blazers forward Ed Davis during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. The Trail Blazers won 114-107. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)
(AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)
LISTEN: Jay Triano, Suns Interim Head Coach

Simplicity can often breed success and that formula appears to have worked for Phoenix Suns center Alex Len.

“We have asked him to be engaged but in a smaller amount of space,” head coach Jay Triano told Doug and Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

The Suns drafted the 24-year-old Len fifth overall in the 2013 draft, but he had yet to translate into a consistent NBA player, until this season anyways. Len has averaged 9.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, both career highs, in 17 games.

After taking the qualifying offer in restricted free agency to make him an unrestriced free agent next offseason, head coach Jay Triano said Len has played with “a little bit of desperation.”

“I think he is looking at where he is in his career and the chance that he is going to be a free agent,” Triano said.

Len is in the final year of his contract and the Suns have patiently waited for the Ukrainian to develop into the player that was worthy of the Suns’ No. 5 overall selection.

But he only averaged 6.9 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game in his first four seasons, while seeing his minutes per game decrease by three from 2015-16 to 2016-17.

Sometimes less is more and Triano said that has helped Len play with confidence on the court this season.

“We have kept the game simple for Alex,” Triano said. “We have asked him to do fewer things then he has been asked to do in the past — run spaced lines, set great screens, roll to the basket and rebound everything that is round.”

Not only has Len appeared to embrace his role, he has excelled specifically in two of the areas Triano mentioned; as the roll-man on the pick-and-roll and on the glass.

Len has run an effective two-man game with guards, and as a result, nobody has scored more points per possession as the roll-man in the league then Len (1.6) with a minimum of 25 possessions prior to Monday’s action. Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz is second at 1.47 points per possession followed by Julius Randle of the Los Angeles Lakers at 1.41.

In addition, Len’s rebounding is one reason why the Suns rank sixth in rebounds per game at 47.4. Len tied a career-high with 18 rebounds in the Suns’ win over the Lakers Friday and has improved his rebounding percentage from 17.5 last year to 20.2 this season.

“He’s a tenacious rebounder,” Triano said. “He kind of secured the game for us. We had to put him back in late in the game just to make sure when they missed, we were going to end up with the basketball.”

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Triano: Suns’ Alex Len playing with desperation in contract year