Suns interim head coach Earl Watson has made the Tyson Chandler-Alex Len frontcourt combination a staple since he’s taken over.
During the last 13 games the duo has played 245 minutes together, which is 18.9 per game.
With both in the lineup, Phoenix has improved on the defensive end. The Suns have allowed 103 points per 100 possessions when they share the court, the equivalent of the ninth-best defense in the NBA.
“The strength is obviously protecting the rim,” Watson said after shootaround on Wednesday. “I think it showed a lot versus Memphis. The two games we won prior, whenever Zach Randolph would beat one, there was another seven-footer waiting in front of the rim and it made it difficult for them to score over both at the same time in the paint.”
Despite the solid defense, the trade-off on the offensive end hasn’t been worth it. The Suns are scoring 92 points per 100 possessions, 4.1 points worse than the 76ers, who have the 30th-ranked offense.
Both Len and Chandler take approximately 11 percent more of their shots in the restricted area when playing without the other. There’s more room for each to operate playing next to a stretch like Mirza Teletovic or Jon Leuer.
When Watson was posed a question regarding trying to finding a better balance between offense and defense he staunchly shot down the notion Len and Chandler weren’t a functional pair on the offensive end.
“I disagree, that’s your personnel aspect,” stated Watson. “I think when they’re both in the game the development of Tyson Chandler’s been big as well as the development of Alex Len. I think you have to be creative. It might not be the vision that everyone understands yet, but in time and with patience it will be clear.”
Not only does Watson think this a functional duo now, he thinks it’s something that can work going forward.
“I think this day and age in basketball when you take a team like Tim Duncan in San Antonio and LaMarcus Aldridge, who is the center? Tim is one of the best power forwards to ever play, but now he’s playing center on defense and LaMarcus plays power forward on offense and they rotate. I think the versatility of Alex Len allows Tyson to be on the court with Alex Len. Because Alex Len can shoot elbow jump shots, can play from the perimeter and post. The creativity that we have to do and we started to build with Tyson is to develop him into a post player as well and a free throw line jumper shooter and allow him to unleash his talent. He’s a talented player, you’re never too old or young. We continue to build, we try not to limit our players.”
I agree with Watson that it’s possible to play two big men together, but with how the NBA is trending it takes both players being extremely versatile on both ends.
It’s not fair to Len and Chandler to compare them to Duncan and Aldridge. They’re different players with different skill sets.
Can Len make an occasional mid-range jumper? Yes, but he’s shooting 34.6 percent on mid-ranger jumpers this season and the majority of those are wide open. Aldridge is a high-volume shooter who forces a defense to bend to him. Len hasn’t yet developed into and probably never will be the versatile force that Duncan and Aldridge are. And in this situation he’s being relied upon to do too much with limited amounts of space because of Chandler’s lack of a developed offensive game.
What’s made Chandler so valuable during his career is him understanding his role and staying in his lane. It’s OK that he doesn’t have an expanded offensive role, that’s what he’s meant to do. Opponents will gladly allow Chandler to take jump shots and post up rather than be attacked by more efficient offensive options.
With 12 games left in the season Watson would help himself by being a little bit more open-minded regarding what he wants to implement. It’s good to have a quality defense, but if the offense can’t produce at a reasonable level it doesn’t help anyone.
Basketball is a game of balance — thus far, as a head coach Earl Watson is struggling to figure that out.
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