Author: Kevin L. Chouinard
ATLANTA -- Alex Len wasn't alive yet when the Atlanta Hawks toured the Soviet Union in the summer of 1988 and played one of their three games against the Soviet National Team in Vilnius, Lithuania. When his fellow countryman Alexander Volkov played for the Hawks from 1989 to 1992, Len still had not yet been born.
But even if those events predated him, they didn't stop Len from rooting for the Hawks as a kid.
"Actually, I grew up being a fan," Len said. "Our first Ukrainian NBA player was Alexander Volkov. He played on the team here so I grew up watching Atlanta a little bit. It was before my time, but he was the first NBA player out here. I'm a basketball fan so I've been watching Atlanta for a long time."
The Hawks are Len's second NBA team. After being drafted with the fifth pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, the 7-foot-1 center played five seasons for the Phoenix Suns. In 2017-18, Len shot a career-best 56.6 percent from the field while averaging 8.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in 20.2 minutes per game.
Those are impressive numbers for someone playing 20 minutes per game. However, it may be more notable how Len sprinkled his name all over the "hustle stats" page of NBA.com.
Len finished the season third in screen assists per 36 minutes (6.7) and fifth in rebounding box outs per 36 minutes (13.2). In fact, Len has it in mind that his role will include setting lots of picks for players like Trae Young and Jeremy Lin.
"When you have someone like Trae," Len said, "you've got to get him open, so it's about setting great screens and rolling hard to the rim. It's going to open up shots for him and plays for guys around me."
Hawks fans should anticipate Len being a focal point of the team's pick-and-roll offense, someone who does the often unheralded work of making space for teammates.
"The most important part is to set your feet and to make sure that you don't get calls for moving screens," Len said. "This league right now is about the shooting guards and you've got to get your teammates open. And if you get your teammate open, you're going to be open too. Screens are a big, big part of the game."
When asked what Hawks fans could expect from him this season, Len hinted at the fact that he dunked 95 times (the 21st-best mark in the league). He also noted that he may unveilling a new part of his game soon.
"They can expect a lot of intensity, a lot of dunking," he said. "I'm trying to expand my game and shoot more threes. I can shoot. The last couple of years I didn't have a chance to show it to the fans, but I'm looking to expand that way. Just a lot of intensity, work hard, discipline.”
Even though Len is entering his sixth NBA season, the Suns drafted him just 11 days after his 20th birthday, so the 25-year-old considers himself a good fit with the youthful players of the Hawks' rebuild.
"It's a young team," Len said. "I think I fit well with the guys and mesh with the young core, so for the long term I thought it would be the best team. It's an opportunity right there. In the East, I think there's — what, maybe 4 or 5 teams that are really good? I think we can surprise a lot of teams."