Is this the year that the Suns' young big man breaks out?
Although this off-season will likely be remembered as "The Summer of the Guards", The Phoenix Suns have also made a statement by who they chose to sign at the center position.
The only "moves" the Suns made to address the post this off-season are bringing back Shavlik Randolph (his contract for the season was guaranteed after the Suns chose to keep him past the July 17th deadline), and signing Earl Barron to a non-guaranteed training camp deal.
While this means that Miles Plumlee will also be expected to step up, the Suns are betting big on a healthy and productive Alex Len to help provide quality minutes on a nightly basis.
Alex Len was the 5th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, and a player that the Suns viewed as a true center who is also skilled and very mobile for his size...a rare commodity in the NBA.
He's 7' 1" (as I can personally vouch for by standing next to him) and seems much bigger now than the 255 lbs he was listed at last season.
At Suns Media Day, I asked Alex about his expectations for this season, and what he's been working on to prepare for a much larger role on the team this year.
"I've been spending a lot of time in the weight room. I've been polishing my post moves and working on all of the little things...my defense, and when I get in the game don't get stupid fouls."
Which brings up a good point. In addition to Alex struggling to get healthy last season, he also struggled to stay in the game due to foul trouble. Averaging just 8.6 minutes per game, he averaged 1.6 fouls. When you translate that to the per-36 stat, it equals 6.8 fouls...which is a problem when you're only allowed five.
This will definitely be an area that Alex will have to improve on this season, as he will be counted on to stay out of foul trouble.
Of course, this doesn't mean Len will be passive either. Not by a long shot. In fact, Alex has embraced the physicality of the position and has taken steps to ensure he is ready to bang with the big boys this season.
"Last year I couldn't put on a lot of weight because of my ankles...I couldn't put a lot of extra pressure on them. This year I feel healthier so I've been able to put on an extra 15 pounds (of muscle) that will definitely help me".
Alex seems to believe that he's ready to take on the challenge of playing a big part on this years Suns' team, but he certainly wasn't the only one who felt that way.
It seemed to be a common theme around media day when coaches and players were asked about who has impressed them so far in the voluntary workouts this off-season.
Head Coach Jeff Hornacek also made note of Alex's physical development.
"What we've seen in this last month is his strength has gotten better. I watched our training camp practices from last year, and just looking at guys like him and Archie (Goodwin) how they've (gotten bigger) in one year. Both of those guys have gotten a lot stronger and it's helped their game and the things they do on the court."
In addition, Goran Dragic specifically mentioned how impressed he's been with Len so far in the workouts as well.
"He looks really good, much better than last year. Last year he had a lot of injuries, but this year he's moving well, and in the pick-up games we've been playing he looks amazing."
Goran also went on to explain that Alex, along with Archie Goodwin, has been one of the team's biggest surprises compared to last year.
"I think Alex is really more comfortable. He's got that fire back in him, and I think he can help this team a lot this season."
All indications seem to be that Alex is in for a big jump this season, as long as he can stay healthy. That's certainly the question. After having two minor surgeries on his ankles before the start of last season, will he be able to avoid injury this year?
If there's any reason to be hopeful he can, it's that the Suns have the best training staff in the entire league...and it's not even close. You can be assured they will be working diligently to keep Alex healthy this season.
The Suns are certainly counting on him.