After his first NBA practice Alex Len offered a familiar rookie observation: "All these guys are physical. You feel it right away." Funny, because Phoenix hopes the 7'1", 255-pound Ukrainian will soon start dishing out the punishment. Little more than a dunker and shot blocker in his first year at Maryland, Len made significant strides as a sophomore. He nearly doubled his scoring average (from 6.0 to 11.9 points) while increasing his rebounding (5.4 to 7.8) and improving his free throw shooting (58.7% to 68.6%), all in just 5.2 more minutes per game.
Further, NBA scouts often noted that the rugged center's style was better suited for the pros, where physical play is more frequently rewarded with trips to the line. With good mobility and a more polished back-to-the-basket game, Len will be an immediate asset to a team that finished 19th last season in points in the paint (40.4 per game).
Len spent the summer watching DVDs of the Grizzlies' Marc Gasol, studying how the burly center uses superior footwork and body control to score. Len won't have much help his first year; the Suns, who have missed the playoffs three years in a row, gutted their roster and are rebuilding around Len and 23-year-old point guard Eric Bledsoe. With Len, Phoenix believes it has the center position set for years to come.
COACH JEFF HORNACEK (1ST SEASON WITH SUNS)
2012--13 RECORD 25--57 (5TH IN PACIFIC)
WHAT'S NEW Rookie boss Hornacek will build around Eric Bledsoe, who was coveted when he was a Clippers backup.
PROJECTED LINEUP (2012--13 STATS)
PG GORAN DRAGIC
14.7 PPG; 7.4 APG; 44.3 FG%; 31.9 3FG%
SG ERIC BLEDSOE
8.5 PPG; 3.1 APG; 44.5 FG%; 39.7 3FG%
SF GERALD GREEN
7.0 PPG; 2.4 RPG; 36.6 FG%; 31.4 3FG%
PF MARCUS MORRIS
7.7 PPG; 3.6 RPG; 42.2 FG%; 36.9 3FG%
C MARCIN GORTAT
11.1 PPG; 8.5 RPG; 1.6 BPG; 52.1 FG%
SG SHANNON BROWN
10.5 PPG; 1.8 APG; 42.0 FG%; 27.7 3FG%
DOUBLE DOUBLES for point guard Goran Dragic in his final 26 games last season, during which he averaged 16.1 points and 9.5 assists. In his previous 51 games he had just four double doubles.
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE SUNS
It's going to be interesting because they are playing Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic together. They are both point guards. If they want to execute, Goran will run point. If it's a high pick-and-roll, they will have Bledsoe do it. One problem is that neither is a great three-point shooter. They might struggle having an off-the-ball guy who can't spot up.... Bledsoe is just a push-and-get-to-the-basket guy. He gets a head of steam and you can't stay in front of him, but he has never been taught to execute an offense.... Kendall Marshall can't get by anybody, can't defend anybody and can't shoot—but he is an excellent passer. He would be good on a team with players who can get open, but he doesn't look to create shots because he can't draw help.... The Morris brothers are just space-out four men, not guys you get the ball to on the block. Marcus, he can make a couple of shots from the outside. Markieff is a better rebounder. Neither one of them is going to defend. If it is going to work with them, it's going to work if they are on the same team. They are such tight-knit twins.... I like Jeff Hornacek's demeanor on the bench. The last few years, as an assistant in Utah, he didn't speak, so you didn't know what personality he had on the sideline. He is going to keep it simple. He has to.... Marcin Gortat talks too much. He goofs around too much. He's not too competitive. Against a legit center, he is going to struggle. He has a couple of moves on the block and he can run the floor. He is more an offensive center who puts up good numbers on a bad team.
CAMERON BROWNE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (LEN)
LEN, THE NEW KID ON THE LOW BLOCK
JORDAN JOHNSON/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (DRAGIC)