Alex Len signed a two-year deal with the Atlanta Hawks in the summer of 2018, and it sounds like he hoped his commitment with the franchise would last even longer. The Hawks, however, weren’t on the same page.
Before the Feb. 6 trade deadline, the Hawks made their big move to acquire Clint Capela, ostensibly their center of the future. Then, Atlanta also traded for Dewayne Dedmon as Capela’s backup, routing Len to Sacramento in the process.
In an interview with The Athletic, Len described what went wrong with the Hawks, and how that derailed his original plans for this offseason:
Throughout his time in Atlanta, Len was vocal about how much he loved the city and the team. He was looking forward to re-signing with the Hawks this summer when his contract expired. He meant it, too.
“One-hundred percent — I wanted to stay,” Len said in a phone interview this week. “I like the coaching staff. I liked my teammates. Everyone was cool. It really had a family feel to it. Last year, you could see the trajectory was going up. Everyone was getting better towards the end of the season. The way we started this season — I think the mistake we had was we had too many young guys. I didn’t think we had enough veterans and leadership on the team. This season didn’t work out as planned, so they had to make changes. It’s a business, so I understood they had to do it.”
Although Len didn’t expect to end up in Sacramento, the fit with him and the Kings has been relatively seamless since his arrival. Len has been his most productive in Sacramento, with the necessary caveat that it has only been nine games.
The Kings are 6-3 with Len in the lineup, and they have a plus-10.7 point differential with him on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. His real impact has come on the defensive end. Len’s mere presence in the lane is a deterrent for opposing players, and that was immediately clear against the Clippers in his first game with Sacramento.
Len defended four shots at the rim in his 16 minutes, and the Clippers missed all of them. Here he is stonewalling Marcus Morris and Montrezl Harrell; in the first clip, Len stays tall and just lets Morris bounce right off him.
Len’s stronghold on the paint has continued throughout his brief Kings tenure. Over the next seven games (tracking data isn’t available at NBA.com for the last game against Toronto), opponents shot 10-of-27 at the rim against Len. NBA players average 52% shooting on 2-pointers this season, and that includes shots outside of the paint, so Len’s defense dramatically reduces opposing efficiency.
Of course, there’s always the other side of the ball, and Len doesn’t exactly fit the profile of a modern, floor-spacing center. The Hawks tried to turn him into a 3-point shooter, and he made 36.3% of his threes last season on 4.8 attempts per 36 minutes. That appears to have been a fluke, however, as Len cratered to 25% shooting from deep in 2019-20. He hasn’t yet attempted a three in a Sacramento uniform.
If Len is interested in some measure of consistency, the Kings should welcome him back next season. He can be the defensive anchor of the second unit, and he has fared quite well with the starting unit this year when playing in Harry Giles’ place. Given Sacramento’s defensive deficiencies at other positions (Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley immediately come to mind), it behooves the team to keep someone like Len around, especially considering his market as a free agent doesn’t figure to be that competitive.
2020 hasn’t gone according to plan for Alex Len — or really anyone, for that matter — but he has found a place where his talents are being utilized. Hopefully, his time in Sacramento lasts longer than this nine-game blip.