The Suns have yet to lose a game with Alex Len as the starting center, and over the past four games the 21-year-old big man has posted averages of 10.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game. That is deserving of a player of the week highlight video.
But when you have a chance to call attention to rising big man Alex Len, you have to take it.
No matter what your preferred nickname is for the 21-year-old center out of Ukraine, we can all agree that he has been dominating the opposition ever since he was inserted into the starting lineup. Against the Wizards, Mavericks, Kings and Lakers this week Len averaged 10.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game on 67 percent shooting from the field. That translates to 15.5 points, 12.2 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per 36 minutes.
On defense he is committing fewer fouls by staying on his feet and not falling for pump fakes. Both Len's 7'1" height and 7'3.5" wingspan allow him to either block or alter shots without leaving the ground.
And on offense, most of his points are either dunks or layups, usually generated by easy feeds and offensive rebounds. Occasionally Len will expand his range and knock down a mid-range jump shot, though it still isn't very consistent. Len has made 15 of 37 attempts that were at least 10 feet away from the basket this season, which translates to a very respectable 40.5 percent success rate.
It's a short video, but here are Len's early season highlights.
Also make sure to vote on the poll for your player of the week. To help you out, here's a chart of the team's best performers statistically over the past four games:
#Top5Protected Report will take a look at draft possibilities for the Phoenix Suns both with their own first-round pick and the Los Angeles Lakers first-round pick, which the Suns will own it falls outside of the top five. I'll be bringing you frequent posts on all of the players graded around this range of the draft and their fits in Phoenix. We start first with a player more likely to be selected with the Suns own pick.
PF, 6'8", 240lbs, Junior (21 years old in January)
2014-2015 statistics: 16.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.1 BPG, 1.0, SPG, 59.6 FG%, 58% FT%, 31.2 MPG
Montrezl Harrell has an elite level of energy and athleticism to his game that he has been slowly polishing in now his third year at Louisville. Harrell is a slightly undersized power forward, but the freakish motor he combines with his 7'3" wingspan, strength, speed, and leaping ability make him an intriguing draft prospect. However, the evolution of his game in the past two years at Louisville and the consistent layers he adds onto himself as a basketball player make him a true lottery prospect in the NBA.
The first place to start with Harrell is how much of an absolute monster he is. Harrell is 6'8" and earns every part of his 240-pound frame. He's a very strong and chiseled man who has been bullying players in college since he got there. While we've seen our renditions of the "undersized powerful power forward" in the NBA, Harrell is different. He can do things like this in pregame warm-ups and it is quite honestly scary how fast he is for a man of that size and bulk.
The thing that brings that package together for Harrell is how hard he works. He might have the highest motor of anyone in college basketball and he simply wants it more than you. He will rebound and dunk anything around the rim with such ferocity that I think if you saw him at a grocery store and tossed a cantaloupe in the air he would rise up and throw it down out of sheer reflex. Harrell runs the floor all the time and truly excels in transition. He works so freaking hard on the court and does a great job of establishing a physical battle with anyone down low. His work rate is a priceless trait for a guy with his skill set.
Harrell's not really a guy you need to run a play for, but he's shown the consistent improvement to warrant a touch every now and then. Harrell has very basic footwork for a big man and doesn't possess an array of moves down low. He basically has a right hook, a running hook, a face-up blow by, or the "I am stronger than you" back down to dunk on your soul. It's not complicated, but it's very encouraging how his touch on the hook has improved and it's something that will eventually be a consistent part of his game.
Perhaps the part you should be most excited about with Harrell is his developing mid-range jumper. He's got some clunky history with the form on his jumper that sometimes comes out to say hello, but when it doesn't that shot sure looks pretty. Finesse isn't something you'd normally associate with a player like Harrell, but he's really working hard to add elements to his offensive game that would suggest he has multiple elements besides ending lives around the basket.
Harrell does have some flaws offensively. That post-up game and jumper are still very new and with that comes some errors every now and then. However, how quickly he has added those parts to his game and how good it looks sometimes suggests to me that they could be a real part of his game by the time he's playing in the NBA. His touch around the basket when he's not dunking on your entire family needs a bit of work (length presents issues) and while he has a very good read and understanding of passing lanes, his passes themselves are very elementary.
Harrell came into this season with a three-point shot that was supposedly ready to go, but he's only 4-20 this year and that was a little too fast. Still, the fact that he is already working on this shot along with everything else is insane. The work Harrell puts in off of the court as well shows in the improvement's he makes. The evolution of his offensive game shows that he has the ability to already consistently improve.
Harrell's off the charts work on the floor already makes him a prime candidate for being a special defensive player and a lot of the things he's done at Louisville show that he could get there. Rick Pitino running a lot of zone has had Harrell learning a ton about playing defense both on and off the ball. He moves very well laterally and has a great understanding of how to use his quick feet and strong chest. He's spent a decent amount of time playing defense on the perimeter and has been pretty good at it for a man of his size. Post defense has a lot to do with strength and work ethic so you don't have to worry about that with Harrell. Pitino has really developed him as a defender with the zone looks and things like denying the post and taking charges is more finesse to Harrell's game that will surprise you. Oh yeah, and he blocks and rebounds everything on that end too. He has some great basketball IQ for the type of player he is and that is a lethal combination defensively.
Harrell's a perfect fit for the Suns in my opinion. The Suns have been lacking a true rebounder for a while now and Harrell is just that. He would add so much heart and hustle to this team that I think P.J. Tucker would try to adopt him. Markieff Morris' great offensive game still lacks the oomph down low and that's what Harrell brings. He's a terrific fit alongside Alex Len defensively, on the glass, and he could work for everything on the inside offensively while Len works that face-up game on the outside. He's an incredible fit for the fast-paced transition game and the potential for his jump shot could be an added bonus.
Currently Harrell's stock sits in the middle of the first round so the Suns own first-round pick is the right fit for him. He's the type of big that you go to war with and is exactly the brand of power you would want to build around a two point guard system. I've been emotionally invested in his arrival in Phoenix since the start of last college basketball season so I am obviously in on Harrell as a Sun. It looks like both the fit as a player and value will be there in the middle of the first round. His stock could rise though and we don't really know where that Lakers pick will land until lottery night, so keep him in mind for there as well.
Who do you want to see next? Let us know in the comments.
Over the past six games, all wins, the Phoenix Suns offense has become the best in the league.
Five of those games have been on the road, with the only home game a date with the dangerous Dallas Mavericks. But the Suns have prevailed in all of them, and now sit in 8th place in the playoff standings at 18-14, two games ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans and three games ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder (the Suns next two opponents, by the way).
The three-headed monster of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas have all been playing well and the rest of the supporting cast has found it's moorings. Each of the point guards is averaging at least 27.7 minutes per game with at least 16.5 points and 4.2 assists, with a plus/minus in the positive.
On offense, the team is smoking hot. Over the past six games, the Suns are first in overall field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage (which gives extra credit to three-pointers) and second in overall scoring and true shooting percentage (which factors in threes and free throws).
There hasn't been any change in the scheme. The offense still centers around the score-first point guards. Goran Dragic is still more of a shooting guard than a point guard. Gerald Green still shoots from anywhere, and Markieff Morris still is money on isolations in the post.
It's just that the Suns have started hitting more shots and playing with more aggression. The combination of those two is not a coincidence. And when the Suns were at their best last year, their offense was unstoppable.
During the streak, the defense has been passable. While the team has the league's 16th rated defense overall on the season (in terms of points per possession allowed), their D during this 6-game run only ranks 18th. But the Suns have made some gains in one important area: free throws allowed. All season, the Suns have given up 21 points per game on free throws while allowing FT attempts on 25% of opponent possessions. During this 6-game streak, the Suns have cut that to 17 and 20%, respectively. The 4-point reduction puts them right in the middle of the NBA pack.
The Suns are now 15-7 when the three point guards are in the lineup together. The three have now shared the court for 82 minutes this season, including the last five fourth quarter crunch times. Their net rating as a threesome is +12.8 (per 48 minutes) and Hornacek has put enough beef out there with them to come out even on the boards.
The Suns are finally scratching the surface of their potential as a mismatch nightmare for opponents. Very few, if any, opponents can match the Suns three-headed attack and none are prepared to face it during an 82-game season against 29 teams of varying schemes and strengths.
This team is built to win 50+ games because they won't play like anyone else and they're pretty good at what they do well. Now, their confidence in the scheme is growing and they see success is right there with enough effort and focus.
Coming up next are two tough opponents on the road: New Orleans Pelicans (against whom the Suns were 4-0 last season) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (against whom the Suns are 2-3 over the past 5 meetings).
These road games will tell us a lot about how far this team has come since their drubbing in OKC two weeks ago.
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