Len and Griner Represent a Dawning of a New Age

Suns rookie center Alex Len poses for photos in his new jersey.
Barry Gossage/NBAE

There’s little debate that the value and responsibility of the center position in basketball has evolved over the last 50 years, but its significance to a team’s success has undoubtedly endured. A center in today’s game, as a general rule, is less back-to-the-basket and more athletic around the perimeter (in the NBA and in the WNBA). In years past, “domination” from the center position was rooted in physicality on the block as opposed to the current culture of basketball where centers are used in more creative and complex ways.

That’s exactly why the Valley of the Sun is buzzing over the Suns’ Alex Len and the Mercury’s Brittney Griner.

At 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-4 wing span, the addition Alex Len gives the Suns an added post presence with the ability to extend the defense along the perimeter with his outside shot. Len, the fifth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, played two seasons at Maryland after coming to the United States from his native Ukraine averaging 11.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in his sophomore season.

The Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner (6-foot-8), on the other hand, has proven to be one of the most dominant centers in all of women’s basketball. Griner (who also has a 7-foot-4 wing span) has adjusted to life in the WNBA by leading the league in blocks (3.00 per game) while shooting 56 percent from the floor (4th in the WNBA).

“I think it’s exciting,” Brittney Griner said who is preparing to face the Los Angeles Sparks in the Western Conference Semi-Finals. “I haven’t had the chance to see Alex [Len] much because of our season, but I’ve heard really great things. For us to be a part of a resurgence of centers in Phoenix is cool.

“I know he’ll do a great job for the Suns.”

For fans in Phoenix, this new era of basketball is both exciting and unprecedented.

Neither the Suns nor the Mercury are known for having dominant centers. Both teams, rather, have a reputation of playing a brand of basketball that is more fast-paced and up-tempo.

That doesn’t necessarily need to change with the arrival of Len and Griner, but their presence at the center position certainly adds an entirely new dimension to each team’s arsenal.

Both Len and Griner have the ability to adapt to various styles of play depending on what the team needs. If the ball needs to be pounded inside, each player as a vast array of moves that can cause havoc for defenses. Yet, they’re athletic enough to be used along the perimeter with their intricate passing skills.

“It is a lot of pressure but I’m ready to step up to the plate,” Alex Len said, who is currently working out in Phoenix. “It’s really exciting to be a part of the new direction the Suns are heading in and I’m sure Brittney [Griner] is, too, with the Mercury.

“Hopefully we will help both of our teams at the center position for years to come.” Fans of both the Suns and the Mercury are equally as enthusiastic to see what the future holds for these two bright, young stars.