Suns Banking on Chandler and Len Helping Each Other

Barry Gossage/NBAE
by Matt Petersen

Tyson Chandler doesn’t give up dunks often. The former Defensive Player of the Year is less than pleased on the rare occasions it happens.

Friday’s end-practice scrimmage provided a rare exception. The Suns’ veteran center closed quickly on fellow big man Alex Len, who had just taken a pass from Ronnie Price. Chandler used every inch and pound of his 7-1 body to thwart Len’s dunk attempt. The Ukrainian big man went through him anyway, finishing the play with authority.

Chandler didn’t take umbrage. He did the opposite.

“I told him on the next play that I want him to go at me every single day in practice,” Chandler said. “It’s the only way we’re going to get better.”

The give-and-take between the two Suns centers will exist all season. Chandler foresees Len enabling him to play with uncontained energy, knowing he has a starting quality backup behind him. He in turn will allow Len to bump his work load without carrying its entirety, which should in turn allow him to progress at a healthy rate.

"I'm going to need him as much as he's going to need me," Chandler said of Len.

“He has all the tools that you want to see in a big man in this league. I don’t think he knows how good he is to be quite honest. I think when he starts to understand that and starts to get that confidence, you’ll see him start to grow and explode.””

— Tyson Chandler on Alex Len

As for the Suns, they’re in danger of having one of the best center rotations in franchise history. Chandler (second overall in 2001) and Len (fifth overall in 2013) are top-five draft picks who sport similar size, length and agility. Both offer elite-level rim protection, powerful finishes in the pick-and-roll game, and at least one foul per game opposing teams won’t forget.

“We think with Alex and Tyson, we’re always going to have a big guy in there that can protect the rim, get in that lane and get us rebounds,” said Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek. “We feel very good about that position.”

They feel even better about the relationship between the two big men and what it will mean for each of them. When the Suns and Chandler agreed to terms on the first day of free agency this summer, Len assured local media he was focused on what he would gain – not lose – with the veteran’s arrival.

“He’s only going to help me grow as a player,” Len said. “He’s going to help me learn all those little tricks veterans use to get an advantage.”

Chandler is ready to impart them. Most of the league knows his affinity for on-court communication, but this marks the first time he will oversee the development of a young, up-and-coming big man.

Already, he knows he’s been given a lot to work with.

“[Len] has all the tools that you want to see in a big man in this league,” Chandler said. “I don’t think he knows how good he is to be quite honest. I think when he starts to understand that and starts to get that confidence, you’ll see him start to grow and explode.”

If Len truly doesn’t know how good he is, then he’s on his way. The 22-year-old has lent both ears to Chandler ever since the latter made it a point to meet Len the same day he arrived in Phoenix. Since returning from the offseason, the veteran can be seen communicating during an between plays of pickup games or practice.

“Every time they got on the court, Alex makes a move and Tyson’s talking to him,” Hornacek said.

Even if it’s to tell Len to keep on dunking.

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