Alex Len's short NBA career has been marred by one injury after another. But Len, who will be just 21 this season, has the potential to become a force in this league if he can stay on the court.

When Seth Pollack saw Phoenix Suns second year center Alex Len, who just turned 21 this summer, the day after he broke his right pinkie finger at Summer League and offered some encouraging words, the Ukrainian just grunted in frustrated response.

Len played one SL game, scoring six points, grabbing six rebounds and blocking two shots. Len's presence defensively was evident, using his length and agility to defend the rim multiple times on single possessions. In short, he was a force.

But now Len is pissed, for lack of a better word.

Big Plans

Len-summer-pre-injury

*sorry about the blur, folks. But this pic does show he's bigger this year.

He was so ready for this summer to be about getting better, not rehabbing. Between the last game of the 2013-14 season and the start of Summer League, he had really buffed up. His upper body was chiseled, and he confirmed that by saying he'd gained more than 10 pounds.

"Every day, five times a week," Len said before SL of working out in Phoenix during the offseason. "I didn't go anywhere. I just stayed here in Phoenix. And after the summer league I'm just going to come back and just keep working here."

The Suns brass had been wanting this to be the summer of Len.

"I told Alex this summer league is very big for him," Summer League coach Mike Longabardi said before they headed to Vegas. "We all know that. I want him to be available so he's got to be durable so he can play. We want to keep him injury-free as best as possible."

Ruh-Roh.

Unfortunately, Len didn't get that chance to keep working. Len caught his pinkie finger in the jersey of an opponent and felt it pop out of place. He hoped it was just a dislocation and popped it back into line for the rest of the game. But later, they discovered the fracture and his big summer was over. He would be in a cast on his hand for four weeks.

Arrested Development

"The cast is off," GM Ryan McDonough confirmed to Bright Side yesterday. "He has been able to do some running and lifting over the past few weeks. He looks good physically - he's getting stronger."

It's like the exact opposite of last summer. At least this summer he was able to work on his lower body and overall conditioning, but he couldn't do basketball drills or work on his offense.

Where Len needs durability is in the ankles and feet. He's a tall young man - at least 7'1" and 260 pounds - and still in those gangly years, just turning 21 this summer.

"The most important thing is conditioning for him," Longabardi said at SL. "If he's in great shape, he's got to play and push through so he's not tired and make some silly mistakes whether its a foul or a turnover."

Of course, nothing really you in NBA basketball shape besides actual basketball. And that doesn't start again for him until at least next week.

New season, new start

"He is not fully cleared to play yet," McDonough said. "But we anticipate he will be cleared next week or shortly thereafter."

If Len can recover and play the whole month of pickup games at full speed, the broken finger will be an afterthought when training camp starts. You can't plan to avoid broken fingers. You have to stay aggressive and hope it doesn't happen again.

He has been gift-wrapped the backup center position this year, behind third-year center Miles Plumlee. Which of them ends up being the long-term starter depends on development. Both have a lot of room for improvement.

Len has the skill set and upside to be a two-way player who can defend the rim, the pick-and-roll, and rebound on defense while providing solid offense that includes putbacks and finishing at the rim while stretching the floor with a perfect-form, high-release midrange jumper. Longabardi even planned to play Len and Plumlee together a lot during SL, with Len being the "mini-stretch" power forward.

Here's what Longabardi said they wanted from Len this summer, which still holds true in training camp, preseason and the regular season:

  • "Offensively, I want him to be efficient. I want him to take care of the ball, take great shots."
  • "Defensively, his communication has got to be great, he's got to play with multiple effort."
  • "He's feeling more comfortable. He's playing a lot more free and easy, which is good. Hopefully, that will continue. That's why summer league is so important. It's huge for him. If he gets to play, he can learn from his mistakes and hopefully not repeat them."
  • "I am pulling for him. I am one of his biggest fans. I want him to do really really well. He does look good."
  • "He's put the time in with Nelly [Aaron Nelson], Cowboy [Mike Elliott] all those guys in the Training Staff Mafia. And he's put his time here with [assistant coaches] Mark [West] and Kenny [Gattison]. And he wants to be good."
  • "Now we just got to make sure he's durable and he can sustain it. That's huge."

Of course, the coaches and Training Staff Mafia are talking about Len's legs needing to be durable. Not his little finger. Now, Len has had another summer to rehab and completely clear up any lingering soreness and loss of flexibility. He did say at SL that he was fully healthy.

"Good, yes, definitely," Len said of his recovered ankles. "I worked hard with the training staff and they got me healthy."

He did stay in the Valley all summer, and I'm sure his legs and conditioning were a big focus over the past several weeks.

I can't wait to see Len in training camp. I really feel that, if he can string together some continued health, he can be a force in this league. He doesn't have the personality to demand the ball, but he can be better than most centers the league has to offer if he can just stay on the court. He's got a meanness to his game. He's a bit like Dragic in that he won't take any crap from an opponent, and isn't afraid to lay a hard foul on them when necessary.

Due to his injuries, few people are talking about Alex Len these days. It's like he dropped off the face of the earth. But we're talking about a kid who is easily 7'1" with about a 7'4" wingspan who is still growing into his lean body. Even so, his 260 pounds are the most of anyone on the team. He is agile and athletic. Not a roadrunner, but not a stiff either.

We could be watching one of the better young big men in the game next season, easing his way into the NBA without the pressure of an entire franchise on his shoulders.

Go to Costco and stock up on your popcorn. The Suns have a lot of storylines this year, not the least of which is how Alex Len will progress in his second season.

Shut up and buy.

Shawn Marion "Celebriduck"

Bobbleheads are played out. MLB has popularized players depicted as gnomes for giveaways, but the Suns have always remained a step ahead. This stadium freebie depicts Phoenix favorite Shawn Marion as a duck. Why? It's best not to ask too many questions when the Matrix is involved. Conversation piece for sure. It's sitting on top of your mantle for just $13, buy it now, after shipping.

Goran Dragic Slovenian National Team Jersey

The picture above is a picture of the jersey allegedly for sale. The eBay posting does not include a picture of the actual jersey you will be receiving, rather a couple of action photos of The Dragon. Word of advice: allow a little time to pass following that Dragic vs. Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose matchup before donning this jersey. You should be good to go by the time the NBA season tips off though. Made by Spalding, all sizes available, and it's on your back for a buy it now price of $119 after shipping.

1998 Phoenix Suns Barbie Doll

Start your daughter off on the right track by gifting her this Barbie Doll clad in Phoenix Suns gear. I'll let you do your own research, but it's widely known that Barbie Dolls are highly collectible, with some fetching six figures. Now it's unlikely that this offering will ever reach those figures. In fact it can be had for less than a twenty dollar bill after shipping, but for the Suns fan that feels like they already own every Suns related item that's out there, this could be an interesting addition to your collection.

The Little Team That Could...And Darn Near Did Book!

THE-LITTLE-TEAM-THAT-COULD-AND-DARN-NEAR-DID-Joe-Gilmartin-Rise-Phoenix-Suns

The seller writes that this is a tough book to find. I've no reason to doubt him, there are currently only four copies available for sale on Amazon. Still, this seller is looking to get over $80 for his copy, while three copies are available on Amazon for less than $12, another one is around $50. The Little Team That Could...And Darn Near Did, tells the story of the meteoric rise of your favorite NBA team, certainly a must have the library of any Suns fan.

Phoenix Suns Cutting Board

Further proof that they will put an NBA logo on anything, is this cutting board up for sale on eBay. I have to say, it looks like a nice piece, unlike a lot of items they'll slap a team name on. Included is 1 wooden base, 1 tempered glass tray, and 1 cheese knife. It's described as "elegant." I'm a Suns fan and everything, but that's debatable. Maybe not best for the formal event you'll never have anyway, but it could make for an interesting piece at the tailgate. It's yours for about $60 after shipping.

Leandro Barbosa will follow up his second career stint with the Phoenix Suns on a team that includes several former Suns. According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the veteran combo guard agreed to a...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]
The Morris brothers need your help choosing their next tattoo. No, seriously. Marcus and Markieff Morris are letting ESPN the Mag readers pick their next tattoo. Really. Vote here. (via @ESPNMag)...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

Prospect profile for Kansas Jayhawks' 6'9" Freshman Cliff Alexander. Highlighting his strengths, weaknesses and his potential fit with the Phoenix Suns.

The Suns 2014-15 season has not even started yet, but it is never too early to look at potential prospects for next year's draft. Especially, with the Suns having the Lakers first round pick along with their own. (The lakers pick is top 5 protected) The Suns have five players already at the guard position (not including Bogdan Bogdanovic), one guard/forward in Gerald Green, two small forwards, one combo forward in Marcus Morris, two power forwards, and three centers. The Morris twins will be restricted free agents next year and center Shavilk Randolph most likely won't be resigned, so expect the Suns to be looking to draft a power forward or center. Enter Cliff Alexander.

Cliff Alexander 6'9" 254 lb Kansas Freshman

Strengths:

Alexander's biggest strength is his athleticism, he runs up and down the floor with ease and has explosive hops, which lead to a lot of dunks. He boasts a 7'3" wingspan and a good frame at 254 lbs, which he uses to his full advantage bullying people down low and then dunking overtop of them. Alexander is very efficient in the paint and typically finishes strong with a dunk. He has good hands and is able to catch and finish alley-oops. Alexander is also a tremendous rebounder at both ends of the court using his wingspan and athleticism to grab rebounds above the rim. He works hard for position and has great timing on put-back dunks/shots. Alexander is one of the hardest workers on the court at all times, he has a great motor and it is a rarity to see him take a play off. Being 254 lbs he already has an NBA ready body and isn't afraid of contact, which he uses to his advantage. He has a good looking form on his jump shot and will occasionally step out and hit a mid-range shot. His consistency should improve the more he works on his shot. Defensively he uses his athletic ability to block shots consistently and powerfully, he has a natural instinct when timing his blocks. It's easy to see why he is a top ten prospect for the 2015 draft class.

Weaknesses:
Alexander's first weakness is his height disadvantage. He is only 6'9", which is considered under the average for a power forward, but his strength and wingspan should make up for his height. In an interview with DraftExpress, Alexander tells them he needs to work on his ball handling and consistency on his jump shot. He also needs to work on learning more post moves on the block and should establish a go-to move. His footwork on both offense and defense could use improvement too.

Fit With the Suns:

When is the last time the Suns had a post presence opposing teams didn't want to play? The answer is most likely Amar'e Stoudemire in 2009-10 and before Amar'e it would be Charles Barkley in 1996. The Suns could use a new all-star caliber big man to control the paint. There is still hope for Alex Len (Sir Lencelot) to come back from injury and put up a solid season, but until that happens I'm going to look past him. Markieff Morris is a good player but will be a restricted free agent next offseason and if he keeps up his play from this season, we might not be willing to pay him the type of money he will demand on the market. Anonthy Tolliver is not a longterm solution, so let's just forget about him. Alexander could join a already good Suns roster and improve it or replace Markieff with a more athletic forward. Alexander fits great with the Suns run and gun system and would give the Suns a good defensive presence to go alongside Len or Miles. He would also improve the Suns' poor rebounding. Worst case scenario Alexander ends up as a competent pick and roll player who rebounds well on both ends of the floor.

Click here to watch his high school senior year mix tape.

Page 11 of 1434

11

Sponsored Ads