Now Healthy, Len Making Big Impact for Suns

Barry Gossage/NBAE

One morning after practice, Phoenix rookie Alex Len was engaged in a friendly three-point shootout with the rest of the Suns big men. Len, a 7-foot-1 center who made all of one three-pointer in college, sank four in a row.

There were no smiles or three-pointers after a similar practice that same week. Instead Len was running three-man fast break drills with a handful of teammates, a practice-ending drill to work on conditioning. When Len would begin to flag, Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek would encouragingly yell “let’s go!”

The No. 5 overall pick obliged, finishing the drill with enough speed to risk convincing Hornacek that maybe he hadn’t exhausted him enough.

Len doesn’t mind the grueling drills. He appreciates the inter-team contests. He’s part of both of them, now. Part of the team.

After months of pain and rehab following a pair of ankle surgeries, he can be “one of the guys.”

“I think you’re seeing simple Alex. We just ask him to rebound, roll to the front of the rim, block some shots and play defense....He’s extremely talented and I see why they picked him at five.”

— Channing Frye

“It’s great to just get out there and play,” Len said. “I feel like I’m part of the team.”

The Suns are just as glad to have Len in the mix. On a team Hornacek has frequently dubbed “not that big,” the rookie center offers a refreshing presence in the paint.

It was impossible not to notice his impact, both immediate and potential, in Sunday’s win over Denver. A seamless offensive rebound and a putback. A quick catch and shoot from the baseline.

Len’s last play punctuated his arrival. He set a screen for guard Ish Smith, then rolled to the front of the rim. He kept his 7-foot-4 wingspan extended vertically. It was a target Smith couldn’t miss if he wanted to. The pass arrived and Len, with one foot still outside the restricted area, didn’t even have to pivot toward the basket for the dunk.

“His length and his height is unbelievable,” Smith said. “It’s a pretty big target.”

Channing Frye, who was able to rest almost the entire fourth quarter thanks to Len and the rest of the Suns reserves, expressed mock jealousy when breaking down Len’s skill set.

“I don’t want to give his secret away, but he’s freaking tall as [expletive],” Frye laughed. “He’s so long and tall. He’s really another addition to our team that’s really big.”

Height is indeed an asset, but the Suns’ initially drafted Len for much more than that. In post-game interviews on Sunday, Hornacek couldn’t keep back a smile when talking about the team’s chance to tap into the rookie’s potential.

“You can see he gets up and down the court pretty well for a big guy,” Hornacek said. “He was sprinting out there….As we move forward, what he’s going to really be good at is that pick and roll to the basket. You saw that pass Ish threw him. You can just kind of throw it up by the basket and he just catches it, doesn’t even bend and can lay it in and dunk it.”

“Realizing that he’s really just starting to play the game on this level, he’s going to get better and better,” he added.

Even now, Len’s impact is hard to miss. Since fully recovering from post-surgery foot pain, the former Maryland standout has snagged 14 offensive rebounds in just 51 minutes of playing time.

And while Frye may jokingly attribute Len’s work to his height, he followed that up with an unprompted, glowing review of Len’s complete game.

“I think you’re seeing simple Alex,” Frye said. “We just ask him to rebound, roll to the front of the rim, block some shots and play defense.”

“He’s extremely talented and I see why they picked him at five.”