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NBA Free Agency 2018: Alex Len could fill the void at center

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The former lottery pick never found his footing in Phoenix. A fresh start in Dallas could kickstart his career.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Another day, another big man being linked to the Mavericks. Currently, the stars are aligning for Dallas to make a run at DeAndre Jordan, and he’s only one of the star centers the Mavericks have discussed. However, if the Mavericks want to be competitive again, it’s time to take calculated risks. Such a risk could be betting on Alex Len’s untapped potential.

The Basics

Len was the fifth overall pick in the infamous 2013 draft coming off the board one spot sooner than Nerlens Noel. The former Maryland Terrapin has spent five years in Phoenix with career averages of 7.2 points and 6.5 rebounds in nearly 20 minutes per game. Those are underwhelming numbers for a top-five pick, but the Suns are hardly a model of stability. Len shared a considerable amount of time with players like Tyson Chandler, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, even playing the four with his fellow big men.

This season, Len played the fewest amount of minutes per game since his second year in the NBA at 20.2 minutes per night. He put up 8.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and shot a career high 56 percent. The 25-year-old was fairly productive in his limited time on the court, though. Per 36 minutes he pumped in 15 points and snatched 13.4 rebounds. Len was one of six qualified players in the entire NBA to reach those marks. He also led the Suns in double doubles at 12, six more than the next closest Sun.

Strengths

Len’s biggest strengths are his size and athleticism. Standing at 7’1’’ with a 7’4’’ wingspan, Len is a behemoth in the paint who can move well considering his size. He’s a good rebounder, ranking in the top ten of the NBA on a per 36-minute basis, ahead of stars like Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis. The same metric shows how active he is on the offensive glass pulling down 4.5 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes. That mark puts him in the top five of the entire NBA. Len also serves as plus roll man. Last season he ranked in the 77th percentile scoring 1.22 points per possession out of the pick and roll. That’s a fine number for a Suns team that hardly utilized him in that way.

Weaknesses

As the game spaces out moves further from the basket, players with Len’s skillset seem to get less valuable. At his size teams can exploit him on the perimeter since Len doesn’t possess the lateral quickness to stay in front of guards. And even if Len was able to stick to the paint, he’s not shown much as a rim protector. His 3.5 percent block rate ranks 71st in the NBA, hardly a number worth hanging your hat on. And last season opponents shot 55 percent within six feet of the rim, an average percentage, but higher than you’d expect for a player with Len’s measurables.

Len’s game is pretty limited. He’s best suited for the pick and roll and crashing the boards, and his game hasn’t really evolved since he was drafted in 2013. He’s shown the makings of a clean jump shot but has yet to form a consistent midrange game.

Fit with the Mavericks

The Mavericks don’t ask much from the center position. Set screens, roll hard, rebound and protect the paint. Do that and the system will elevate the big men. By all accounts Len can serve this role and would likely benefit from not being asked to do too much.

The fact is the Mavs don’t have a true center on the roster. Even if the team lands a marquee name like DeMarcus Cousins or Jordan, Len could still be in play at a reasonable price. He is the classic reclamation project the Mavs like to take a risk on. He’s shown flashes when given starter minutes, but he’s yet to put everything together to be a consistent force in the NBA. Even with an increase in minutes, it’s no guarantee Len could produce at a higher level. Still, the Mavericks would be wise to sign Len at a low cost. The returns could pay off.