As an undeniably solid yet unexceptional veteran, it’ll be interesting—though, likely predictable—to see what Alex Len can potentially offer to Mike Brown and the coaching staff this season given the fact the Kings already have two centers with starter skillsets in Domantas Sabonis and Richaun Holmes.
He’s on the outside looking in regarding rotational minutes, but there are things he can be depended on to provide at any given moment as a depth piece on the end of the bench.
At 7’0″ and 250 lbs., Len can be described as a physical presence on both ends of the floor. He’s strong and controlled in his low post offense, and he will battle with other bigs on the opposite end of the floor.
Combined with that size and physicality, however, Len moves pretty well on the floor, which is a major reason he might always have a place in this league. After all, size means little if you can’t move with today’s pace.
As a result of these factors, the former Maryland Terrapin has had value in the pick and roll game. Willing and able to make active cuts to the rim after setting screens with his large body, Len also has adequate touch around the basket, converting just under 60% of his attempts down there in his career.
In 2018, after a long letdown of a stint in Phoenix where he never became anything more than a role-playing big despite being the 5th overall selection in 2013, Len entered free agency. Watching Trae Young play in Summer League that year influenced the Ukrainian to sign with Atlanta. The emergent point guard’s facilitating expertise seemed perfect for him.
“I had never had a point guard like that,” Len said in hindsight of watching the rookie in exhibition action. “The only time I had played with somebody like Trae, it was Steve Nash and it was a pickup game.”
That high praise proved more than warranted as Alex Len went on to have his best statistical season with the Hawks that year, averaging 11.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. The rookie Young assisted Len on about a quarter of the big man’s scores while only sharing 56% of the center’s minutes on the floor.
The majority of the team’s pick and roll action was between Young and John Collins, but Len was still benefiting from efficient looks and lobs.
If Len is filling in this season, he’ll be the furthest thing from a primary offensive option, probably only getting dump offs and tip-in’s, which he handles pretty well at his stature. It’s also safe to assume he’d see at least a little pick and roll action if he’s replacing a guy like Sabonis. But in the big picture, opportunities may be fewer and far between.
Though it’s unlikely, he might somehow earn more playing time if he can get anywhere close to where he was in his lone full season with the Hawks
As big of a difference as Young made for Len in the pick and roll, it was the center’s three-point shooting year that made the biggest difference. An outlier of a season from deep, Len shot 36.3% from beyond the arc on more than 200 attempts, which accounted for roughly one-third of his total field goal attempts. This obviously elevated his impact.
More than just a roller, Len was shooting confidently enough to slip out for pick and pop looks. This is evident in his shot chart from that season as he hit over 40% of his looks from the wing areas of the perimeter.
The following year, Atlanta had entrusted him with the role after a season that convinced them he’d be a decent fill-in for Dewayne Dedmon, who’d shot over 38% the season prior and had just signed with Sacramento (it’s safe to say you know how that turned out). But after nine games, Len lost his starting job following a miserable start where he hit just 2 of 19 attempts from deep in those contests.
Without the three-point shot, it was as if he was back on the Suns as another ordinary big man deserving of role player status at best. And if he can’t bring that shooting range back to life, he won’t be earning a bigger role.
During the year he sort of fell back to earth—which was the season he got his first stint with Sacramento following a trade that sent Dedmon back to Atlanta—he did happen to improve his defense as shown in the fact he shaved down his defensive rating ever so slightly in spite of taking a step or two backwards in terms of offensive skillset.
It was specifically that time with the Kings in 2020 that may have been his best stretch of defensive play since he was a top-ten defensive center in that time frame, and if he could replicate that somehow, it would serve him well in terms of possibly earning minutes.
However, fast forward to this last year and Len posted a poor defensive rating of 114 in 39 games played.
He’ll still battle with guys and provide a solid level of rim protection (averaging 1 block per game in his career), which makes him a good option if there’s a need for physicality and size. While it’s an important factor, it hardly makes him anything more than a slightly above average defender.
He’s competent, but there were moments this past year where he did not put himself in the best defensive positioning. Call it lapses in attention or awareness, but he can lose sight of a stretch guy on the perimeter, find himself a step or two behind in transition, or just break down in terms of staying with his man.
Plus there’s the fact he sometimes falls short at some of the things he’s supposedly good at. He’ll bump and wrestle with Nikola Jokic, but he can’t be depended on to do much against such a highly skilled player. Similarly, he’s always had potential to defend in space, but a truly athletic big like Jarrett Allen will run around him or spring above him.
He’s very solid defensively, but far from elite.
And that’s kind of the way it is overall.
Behind Sabonis and Holmes, Len will have very spotty and inconsistent minutes on the floor since he doesn’t project to be in the nightly rotation. Injuries probably won’t take the year off, though, so there will be moments where the nine-year vet will have to slide into the primary reserve spot at center.
Best case scenario, if Len can hover near his peak potential—which isn’t likely by any means—he’d make things a little more difficult in delegating minutes. That is to say if he can build chemistry with guards in the pick and roll game, particularly Fox, while also proving he’s able to both stretch the floor and provide an improved defensive campaign, then he could force his way onto the floor.
At the end of the day, there are three words to describe Alex Len: solid, experienced, and trustworthy.
He’s been around for so long and provides an adequate baseline of skills that make him fairly valuable relative to his role, so Mike Brown and company are probably comfortable with Len, which is about all one can ask for regarding a roster’s third center.