The Phoenix Suns announced on Monday at Media Day that Channing Frye was completely cleared to return to basketball as a member of the team.
The Phoenix Suns announced on Monday at Media Day that Channing Frye was completely cleared to return to basketball as a member of the team.
In the first part of his interview with me, Alex Len talked about his improving health and his role on this Phoenix Suns team. He mentioned that he was hoping to use training camp as a period to " get in shape, get [his] wind back." The 20 year old Ukranian big man is hoping to get back to 100% after his two ankle surgeries and reiterated his willingness to do whatever he can to help the team win.
For a brief review of the highlights of Len's game, watch the following DraftExpress breakdown of his strengths and weaknesses:
DraftExpress, who had Len listed #1 prospect in the 2013 NBA class in their final pre-draft rankings a few months ago, listed transition, protecting the rim, pick & roll, face up game, post passing and "major upside" all as strengths of Alex's game. Although he is quite young and raw, he no doubt has the sinze, potential and versatile skillset to be a premier big man in this league. With this scouting report in mind, let's jump into the interview:
Q: I know you started playing again recently but has the coaching staff been telling you what to work on in terms of any specific skills?
A: Right now, I've been working a lot on defense, like team defense. Just trying to learn little things to help the team overall. I've been working a little bit with coaches on my post moves and stuff like that but I think for me, it's going to be about just helping the team on defense and being a presence at the rim - block shots, rebound, run the floor. Things like that are going to be big.
Q: Who's the best European player in the league right now?
A: I really like Marc Gasol and Tony Parker. I think they're really good players. I tried to watch a lot of Gasol this offseason because I really like his game. I've been trying to watch his footwork and how he uses his body and stuff like that.
Q: I do see some similarities in both your games and actually think your skillset and potential put you somewhere between both Marc and Pau Gasol in terms of style. Other than Ilgauskas, who a lot of people compare you to, who do you think is a good NBA comparison for you and who do you try to model your game after?
A: It's hard to say. I don't really compare myself with anybody. I just try to watch other guys who are really good players like Tim Duncan so I can try and take little things from them. But I don't think it makes sense to compare myself to anybody. I just need to work hard.
Q: Let's step off the court for a moment. What are your favorite off-court hobbies?
A: I really like movies. I love watching movies.
Q: Awesome, me too. What's your favorite movie?
A: I really like old-school movies. My favorite movie of all time probably, I don't know if you've heard of it, is A Bronx Tale. That's my favorite. I really like Tarantino movies, too, like Pulp Fiction. I've probably watched every Tarantino movie.
Q: Wow, you have great taste. I love Tarantino as well. How do you like the city of Phoenix so far?
A: I like Phoenix so far. I really like the weather, I've been getting tan. The people are really nice, too. All these people already recognize me on the streets and just wish me good luck and stuff like that, so that's really nice.
Q: What's your favorite jersey of the new Suns uniform sets you and some other guys modeled so well recently?
A: The orange ones with the sleeves. I used to wear sleeves in college so I like those.
Q: One thing I thought was very interesting about you is that you like to play chess. That seems like a somewhat rare and unique interest for an NBA player. On a personal level, I think it's really cool because I love to play chess too and used to play in a lot of tournaments when I was younger. Is chess something you do in your spare time off the court to relax?
A: I play a lot with my agent and actually with some guys from Maryland, too. We play online sometimes. I've been playing chess since I was maybe 6, when my grandfather taught me. When I moved to Maryland two years ago, I had been playing a lot online with my grandfather. From Skype, you can call and play at the same time.
Q: Let's end with this: what would be a successful rookie season for you in your own opinion?
A: I would be happy if we're going to win games this year, you know? I want to be part of a winning team. It doesn't really matter if I play good and the team loses. Nobody really cares. When the team wins and you don't score a lot of points but you contributed to help the team win, that's good.
If there's one conclusion I personally surmised from this interview, it's that Alex Len and I are basically the same person. We both play chess, are fans of Tarantino and are currently in long-distance interracial relationships. Really, the only differences are that I'm a little over a year older than Alex and Alex is a little over a foot taller than me. That's pretty much it.
Suns fans, get excited. Not only is Alex Len the highest drafted Suns player in 26 years, but he's a humble, likable and talented rookie. Here's wishing Alex Len all the best as he gets ready for training camp and the start of his first NBA season. Let the Lensanity begin.
"We all know what's going to happen," Gortat said to the crowd of reporters with his usual refreshing display of candor. "It's a business. I totally understand that. I totally understand the situation.
"There's no hard feelings. I will try to do everything that's necessary to win basketball games, and whatever happens happens. I'm grateful for everything I had in this team."
Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat was in his usual great mood for the media, cracking jokes and laughing when we asked questions he just didn't want to answer or knew he couldn't to answer with total candor or run the risk of getting inundated with questions from his followers afterward. He learned that from last year, when he quickly started talking about his role in the offense, which started rumors about trades.
"There's always going to be rumors," he said, mentioning how hard it is to take messages from friends and family every day about the latest gossip.
A week after returning from Slovenia for Eurobasket 2013, after Poland was eliminated in the first round, Gortat sees the future very clearly. He watched veterans Jared Dudley, Luis Scola and Caron "we hardly knew ye" Butler get traded for youth and assets, and he knows that the upcoming season of the Phoenix Suns is about development of that youth.
Behind him on the depth chart are a pair of 25 years olds, Viacheslav Kravstov and Miles Plumlee, and a young 20-year old "pure center" in Alex Len who just needs seasoning before he takes over the starting job.
"You would be dumb as a GM to not pick a guy like that," Gortat said of 20-year old Alex Len. "He's a 7'1" center who can move, who can run, who can shoot the ball. He's got a great touch around the rim. And quite honestly he's got a super-bright future in this league. That's the best pick.
"Even if you have a decent center on the team, I would still go for him. At the end of the day, you can always get something good for a center."
Gortat knows his time in Phoenix is limited to 9 months or less, but he also knows this is his free agent year and that minutes are paramount to proving his value to the NBA.
"Being a backup for so many years," he said. "It was a pleasure to come in and try to beat up Dwight Howard. Now the situation is turned around. Now I got three young stars coming to practice to beat me up.
"We all fighting for bread, we all fighting for milk. I'm not letting anybody take my job. I'm gonna come here, and I'm gonna fight these guys just like I'm fighting everybody else. I'm gonna do whatever I can to stay in this league, and on this team, as long as possible."
The fight for minutes at the center position will be most interesting for two athletic shot blockers who don't quite have the upside of Len or the talent of Gortat.
And that doesn't even factor in the presence of Channing Frye, who will play both power forward and center for the Suns once he gets back into game shape. Frye has no restrictions other than getting cardio up and his shot consistent.
Gortat, for one, is excited about what Frye brings back to the lineup.
"I was super excited about Channing coming back," Gortat said. "He can spread the floor for us. He's a big 4-man who can also block some shots and get some rebounds. With his range, my game is going to expand. I'm going to have so much space under the basket I can go one-on-one."
Gortat spent much of his time last year playing next to Luis Scola, who spends as much time in the paint as Gortat, leaving little space for driving the lane by either a big or a guard, and certainly not room for all of them.
"[Channing] is the guy I always had the best chemistry with on the team," Gortat said. "If he wants me to come back at 7 o'clock in the morning to shoot some shots, I'm gonna do it."
Expect the Suns to play Gortat regular minutes for at least the first month or two of the season, but after that the minutes will depend on a combination of the Suns' record and the development of any of Len, Kravstov or Plumlee.
This team is all about player development now, and even the resident 29-year old center knows it's not about him anymore. It's about the next wave of young players.
Since I recently ranked the least anticipated Suns seasons of all-time and not all of you are Arizona sports historians like I am I figured I'd bring my aggressive form of pessimism to the present.
With that comes my excitement rankings of all Suns players currently on the training camp roster. This isn't who is currently the best NBA player - just who I'm most excited to see and why. Since pessimism is my bag I'm also listing the reasons not to be excited about the player.
I look forward to all your responses in the comments that have Archie Goodwin in Springfield by March. If this article reads like I'm bi-polar well....that's the point.
Reason To Be Pumped: The 7'1 Ukranian center takes the #1 spot on my rankings basically because he's the highest draft pick the Suns have brought in since 1987 (Armen Gilliam). Also to quote my pal Sreekar whose description of Len is much more articulate than I could fumble together:
"Alex Len is a 7'1" 20 year old with a lot of raw talent and tremendous potential. He possesses a rare blend of size, mobility, offensive polish and defensive presence and has the capacity to be the franchise center that the Suns are very much hoping he will become."
None of that is factually incorrect. "Talent", "potential", and "size" are words that have not been said about a Phoenix Suns player in an awfully long time - at least together. All great reasons to be excited.
Plus Len made the ACC All-Defensive Team and hung 23-12 on Nerlens Noel and Kentucky in the opening game of Maryland's season last year.
Reason To Pump The Brakes: Let's start with the injuries. Len was unable to work out for teams leading up to the draft due to a stress fracture in his left ankle. Not to be outdone, the Suns recommended precautionary surgery on his right ankle after he was drafted. A big man is going to have foot problems - you just don't want it to be before they can legally drink.
How about the rawness which Sreekar so eloquently pointed out? Len played two seasons at Maryland, during the first he was a part-time starter that averaged 6 points a game and during the second he scored under 12 points and grabbed less than 8 rebounds. Numbers which were good enough for him to make only honorable mention All-ACC. In 38 games last season, Len scored in single digits on 12 occasions and only cracked double digits in rebounding 8 times.
Considering the dearth of 7 footers roaming the ACC that's a tad frightening.
Reason To Be Pumped: Well the easy reason is to look at this highlight film of Bledsoe's Top 10 career plays (and then compare that to the Suns Top 10 plays from last year. The comparison there is basically the difference between watching a 2013 NBA game and black & white film of a guy in what looks like a bathing suit shooting a set shot. Realistically Bledsoe is a hyper-athletic guard who was a significant contributor for a Clippers team that made the playoffs the last two seasons.
If that's not enough, other NBA players call the guy Mini-LeBron and even the King himself has been seen socially with the Suns new guard. Tons and tons of potential has yet to be tapped in the 23 year-old.
Reason To Pump The Brakes: Being a good bench player doesn't necessarily translate to success as a starter. In 12 games as a starter last year Bledsoe averaged 14.2 points on 40.5% shooting to go with 5.3 assists. Not overwhelming by any means plus even if you do want to draw positive conclusions from it - small sample size!
But I'd say a bigger question mark for Bledsoe is what position does the guy play? He played shooting guard at Kentucky as his tenure overlapped with John Wall. You might have noticed that the Suns already have a point guard in Goran Dragic and has Jacob Padilla points out at the end of this article, Bledsoe is likely better off the ball.
So we're experimenting positionally with a guy who has not played major minutes in the NBA. Catch the fever.
Reason To Be Pumped: I mean he's pretty clearly the most awesome awesome that ever awesomed. The Suns traded up a spot in the draft to select the youngest player available and he quickly became a fan darling.
Ryan Feldman of ESPN.com actually wrote a comparison of Goodwin's game to that of Russell Westbrook and Tyreke Evans so that's pretty high praise. Mike Prada also said he was the 7th best rookie at Summer League which put him ahead of a boat load of guys who were picked before him.
Goodwin has one of those skill sets which could be described as violent - hurling himself into the lane and getting to the free throw line with little regard for his own health. There is a major amount of upside in Goodwin.
Oh, also he's the best player in the history of basketball.
Reason To Pump The Brakes: Well he's really young and extremely raw which is probably why he was still available with the 29th pick....aw screw it. Don't pump anything - pedal to the metal. Archie for MVP!
Reason To Be Pumped: Our favorite Slovenian is returning to Phoenix fresh off of a EuroBasket performance that garnered him All-Tournament team honors. He's also coming off of his first full season as an NBA starter and he acquitted himself fairly well by posting 14.7 point and 7.4 assist per game numbers while hitting a few game winners and being really the only Sun you could give the ball to with the game on the line.
Adding Bledsoe alongside Dragic should also free up Goran by having a second guy who can actually dribble the ball a couple times without it bouncing off his foot.
Reason To Pump The Brakes: Regarding the All-Tournament team thing I've continually forced to remember that Hedo Turkoglu was All-Tournament at the 2010 World Championships the summer before his mess of a Suns career.
The other reason to wonder about Dragic is more a question of ceiling than anything else. Does even the biggest Goran Dragic supporter think he can even be a top-10 player at his position? I think top half if we're lucky but I'll let you decide.
Reason To Be Pumped: There really are a lot of reasons to be excited about Frye. Over the course of his three seasons with the Suns, Frye has been a three point gunner, putting in more than 2 per game in his first two seasons. Beyond that I feel like he's a guy that really improved his ability to rebound in the post-Amar'e haze and intangibly he's a veteran leader and will be a great influence on the young players. Plus after missing all of last season with a heart issue it's just awesome that he's playing again.
And if you want to be callous about the situation - if he returns to even being near the Channing he was prior to injury, he'll command a nice little ransom on the trade market as 6'11 floor spreading shooters are like cat nip for contenders.
Reason To Pump The Brakes: It really begins and ends with the fact that he missed an entire season with a heart issue. Beyond being absolutely terrifying, it's impossible to expect he'll be anything but extremely rusty for at least a couple months. And that's all I have to say about that.
Reason To Be Pumped: He's athletic as hell and really good at dunking. Green won the NBA Dunk Contest in 2007 and the McDonald's All-American dunk contest in 2005. After being a first round pick by the Celtics in 2005 (out of high school), Green bounced around the NBA for a few seasons before flaming out - but what I respect is his ability to change the opinion of NBA front office people by working his way back into the NBA after two seasons away.
He resurfaced in New Jersey in 2011-12 and actually averaged 12.9 points per game on 48% shooting and 39% from three. That was enough for Indiana to take a flier on him where he was a sometimes rotation player for the contending Pacers.
Reason To Pump The Brakes: You had to know there was a reason I led with his dunking. Although those 31 games in Jersey were reason for optimism, his play in Indiana - where he shot just 36% and 31% from three - would indicate that we were looking at an outlier performance wise.
On his best day he's probably going to be nothing more than an erratic rotation player - which on this Suns team probably means he's going to get way too many minutes. But he's athletic and a bit of an unknown so I'll put him highish on the list.
Reason To Be Pumped: He's a 29 year-old affordable center who has basically represented double-double production over the course of a 2 and a half plus year Phoenix Suns career. In 2011-12 he averaged 15.4 points and 10.0 rebounds per game while blocking a shot and a half - there aren't a ton of guys who can claim that.
Do you really need me to tell you more about Marcin Gortat? If you've watched a Suns game since December of 2010 you pretty much get it.
Reason To Pump The Brakes: Without Steve Nash in the picture those averages from 2011-12 dipped to 11.1 and 8.5 while he lost 3 percentage points on his shooting and go to the free throw line less. Additionally, Gortat is coming off of an ankle injury that caused him to miss the last several games of the season.
Outside of all that Gortat just kind of is what he is. I can't imagine he's going to get much better than he was last year and I can't imagine he's going to get much worse. The ideal Marcin Gortat scenario is that he reverts to 2011-12 form for a few months which allows the Suns to pawn him off on a contender for a first round pick. How exciting is that!
Reason To Be Pumped: Plumlee is a big, athletic front court player who is entering just his second NBA season after a quality year at Duke. The Pacers thought enough of him to take him in the first round of the 2012 draft although trapped behind a roster of solid bigs he didn't get to play that much.
It's also worth mentioning that he was one of the top players at the Orlando Summer League.
Reason To Pump The Brakes: There's little used and there's fresh out of the box - and Plumlee is the latter. The guy played 55 minutes. Total. For an entire season. I know the Pacers were a contender but 55 minutes is almost comically low for a guy picked in the first round.
As for his career at Duke - it's not like he set the world on fire there either. In his senior year Plumlee threw up numbers that won't inspire - 6.6 points and 7.1 rebounds. Sure he only played 20 minutes per game but why the hell was he only playing 20 minutes per game in the first place?
Plus if you're thinking major upside - he might be in his 2nd NBA season but he's already 25 years old. For reference sake he's 4 weeks older than Kevin Durant.
Reason To Be Pumped: He was a better college player than his brother (winning Big 12 player of the year) and obviously college performance is a perfect indicator of NBA success, right Michael Beasley?
After getting barely any playing time in Houston as a rookie, he was an OK rotation player for them for 54 games. In those 54 games he averaged 8.6 points per game and shot 38% from three. Lance Blanks activated wonder twin powers by trading for Marcus in February of last year and then he somehow got worse but blaming Lindsey Hunter for things is awesome so let's say it was that.
Perhaps Jeff Hornacek will give him a defined role and he can be a decent rotation guy.
Reason To Pump The Brakes: Does he have a position? And if he does is he any good at it? I think the answers to those questions are maybe and probably not. Jim sums it up quite nicely here in his Marcus Morris player review:
Next year could be a good litmus test. The Rockets version of Morris makes him a serviceable backup. The Phoenix version of Morris makes him a fringe NBA player. Will the real Marcus please stand up?
If the upside scenario is "serviceable backup" I'm not going to lose my mind in excitement about watching him.
Reason To Be Pumped: 2 seasons into his NBA career, Morris has established himself as a solid rotation player. He averaged 8.2 points and 4.8 rebounds in 22.4 minutes per game last season and has some moments of reliability.
If you're looking for some sort of progress he scored 20 points in a game twice in April, including a win over a Houston team that was still trying. Finally I'm still not willing to discount the fact that the Morri having a secret twin language will invariably pay off.
Like his twin brother he's also just 24 years old - "just 24 years old" being the official statement of Kevin Durant fans everywhere. And yes I'm confident in reporting that he and Marcus are the same age.
Reason To Pump The Brakes: From the very moment he was drafted did anyone look at Markieff Morris and see something other than "decent rotation player with little upside" ? Well through his first two years that's pretty much exactly what he's been.
Markieff isn't a particularly impressive shooter (34% on his career and he got worse from rookie year to 2nd year), doesn't strike me as a very impressive rebounder, and doesn't really do anything incredibly well. He's probably going to be a "guy" in the NBA for the next decade - no shame in that, just not something I'll get excited about.
Reason To Be Pumped: Although you may feel like Marshall has been with the Suns forever, he's entering just his 2nd season in the NBA. He also played just two seasons at North Carolina so he's only just turned 22 years-old. Marshall's college coach even compared him to Peyton Manning and said he was the best passer he's ever seen. High praise.
If you're looking for an on the court plus from Marshall's rookie year it's probably that he started 3 games and in those games managed to average a sterling 12.3 assists per game. Not per 36 minutes. Small sample size, but still.
Reason To Pump The Brakes: All the hype about how he can't shoot is absolutely accurate. Pretty much anyone will tell you his jump shot mechanics are a mess and he made just 56 of his 151 attempts last season (good for 37%). As far as guards go, Marshall's terror when catching the ball when he has an open jumpshot is nearly unrivaled. It's sort of like when Lou Amundson would catch the ball 15 feet from the basket and react like a movie protagonist who sat on the bench the entire "big game" and then was miraculously thrust into the role of hero with just seconds remaining.
In addition to his terrible shooting, Marshall is also really slow and a sieve of a defender. So besides bad shooting, lack of foot speed, and defense he's great.
Reason To Be Pumped: Tucker is a great story. After being a 2nd round pick out of Texas (by the Raptors) in 2006, Tucker played 17 games in the NBA before heading off on a 5 season overseas odyssey. In that time he played in Israel, Ukraine, Greece, Italy and Germany.
After starring on the 2012 Summer Suns, Tucker earned a roster spot which resulted in a sort of "shrug, good for him" reaction from the fan base which expected him to be right around the 11th or 12th man.
But Tucker quickly exceeded those expectations and was getting Michael Beasley's minutes before New Years. On the season Tucker played 24.2 minutes per game and averaged 6.4 points. By the final month of the year he was an every night starter than scored nearly 11 points and grabbed 5.6 boards per contest.
Reason To Pump The Brakes: I think I've said this here like 6 billion times but if your team starts PJ Tucker 45 times on the season you can pretty easily guess they were a sub-30 win team, which is what the Suns were.
At 28 I doubt Tucker is going to get a lot better unless he improves upon his 31% three point shooting. For a rebuilding team this just isn't the type of guy I want to see getting a lot of minutes. I get that he's a hard worker and probably an awesome veteran presence but there's oh so little to be excited about with his game.
Reason To Be Pumped: The pun potential? Definitely the pun potential. When the Suns are already 15 games under .500 around the holidays we'll be able to make all sorts of terrible puns about how Christmas is ruined and whatnot.
Beyond puns (and believe me when I tell you it's hard to get me beyond puns), Christmas is a hard working player who's got a real shot at making his first NBA roster. He's a decent shooter and scorer so that's cool. Basically he'll be a fun story to root for - kind of like PJ Tucker was last year.
Reason To Pump The Brakes: If a guy is 27 and hasn't made his NBA debut yet there is usually a reason for it. Christmas has spread his cheer over numerous NBA summer league teams and training camps and has been unable to stick to this point. Also the summer league performance that landed him a roster spot really wasn't that great - sure he averaged double figures in scoring but he also shot only 32% from three and he's supposed to be some sort of shooter.
Reason To Be Pumped: In 8 games at the recently completed EuroBasket tournament, the Ukranian big man shot 65% from the field and blocked 2.5 shots a game. The shot blocking averaged ranked first in the tournament. He managed to block those shots while playing just 22.4 minutes per game. Also both he and Len are Ukranian so they can probably talk about Ukranian things. Whatever those are.
Reason To Pump The Brakes: Much like Ish Smith, had you heard of this guy before the Suns got him from Milwaukee? Apparently he was a throw-in from Detroit in the Bucks trade of Brandon Jennings and was flipped to the Suns shortly thereafter. Unless you're a fan of the Detroit Pistons (for whom he played 25 games) or the Ukranian National Team I'm guessing you've never seen him on a basketball court before. For a player who just turned 26 that doesn't leave me with particularly high expectations.
Reason To Be Pumped: His full name is Ishmael so I guess we could make really terrible Moby Dick jokes. Smith also has a relatively decent amount of NBA experience for somebody you've never heard of - playing in 121 NBA games and even starting 7 of them. Apparently he's also decent at defense.
Reason To Pump The Brakes: Go ahead and name a team Ish Smith played for. OK some of you can probably do that because you remember the Suns acquired him in the Caron Butler dump (you cannot sincerely call that a "trade") but name a team besides Milwaukee. Hell how many of you can honestly claim you'd even heard of Ish Smith prior to the Suns acquiring him? I'd put money on Kris and Jacob knowing but beyond that I think you're all just lying to yourselves.
Reason To Be Pumped: He can apparently shoot the basketball a little bit. In the D-League last year Nunnally hit 40% of his threes (71 of 175). Nunnally went on to shoot 63% from three in the Summer League including torching the legendary 2013 Summer Suns (aka the best team to not win the vaunted Summer League Title) in the semifinals.
Reason to Pump the Breaks: I'll give you a choice between (a) he's a random dude the Suns signed Saturday night or (b) he was available for anyone to sign until 2 days before training camp opened. If that's not enough then I can do nothing for you.
Reason To Be Pumped: He was First Team All-Pac 10 in 2011! Lee was also a 2nd round pick in that same year and has actually played in a few NBA games (35 to be exact). He's actually even scored in double figures in 4 career NBA games. Sounds like he's pretty much a stud.
Reason To Pump The Brakes: Beyond the fact that he was traded twice on draft night (thus meaning he's been traded 3 times in 2 years) Lee missed the majority of the 2012-13 season with injuries to his hip and knee - both of which required surgery. Surgery to your hip and knee reads more like the medical chart of your grandfather than it does of a 23 year-old guard you're expecting absolutely any production out of.
Reason To Be Pumped: I guess dunks and stuff?
Reason To Pump The Brakes: If you are excited about a mediocre guy who exhibits terrible shot selection, threw the organization under the bus, and has no remaining upside then more power to you. Given Brown is in his third season in Phoenix, his contract is expiring at the end of the year, and I don't think he's good at basketball in the first place I'm pretty comfortable saying I'm more excited with the James Nunnally mystery box and Malcolm Lee's eventual injury settlement than Brown.