Alex Len, No. 5 pick in a draft full of players who looked like busts as rookies, showing he doesn’t deserve the label

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BOSTON – Alex Len thought he finally made it.

After pre-draft surgery to his left ankle and post-draft surgery to his right ankle, Len – selected No. 5 overall by the Suns last yearwas cleared during training camp. He played in Phoenix’s first two games, carving out a role as the team’s backup center.

“I already thought, I’m back. From this point, I can just go up,” Len said. “I just – I went down again.”

Soreness in his left ankle caused Len to miss 28 of the next 30 games. He went more than a month without even practicing. His rookie season was turning into “probably one of the hardest years of my life.”

Coincidentally, his setback was timed with his mom’s move from Ukraine. She cooked his favorite – spaghetti, chicken and meatballs – while he rested.

“She helped me a lot, just to get through it,” Len said.

The home cooking apparently worked.

Now on other side of his injury-plagued rookie year, Len is quietly beginning to validate his selection as the No. 5 pick in the 2013 draft.

He’s averaging 6.4 points and on 60.0 percent shooting with 5.2 rebounds in 19.0 minutes per game. Although those numbers don’t jump off the page, they’re impressive in such limited playing time, and he’s outperforming Phoenix’s starting center, Miles Plumlee. It could be only a matter of time until the 21-year-old Len – five years younger than Plumlee – works his way into the starting lineup for the Suns (7-5).

Compared to his peers, Len is already setting himself apart.

Len’s lack of production last season contributed to a terrible showing by the rookie class. His PER (7.3) ranked seventh among the top 10 picks. He’s more than doubled it this year to 15.9, second among that group, behind only No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett.

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Even when he returned to play last season, Len wasn’t truly ready to compete.

“I was out of shape the whole year,” Len said.

Still, people labeled him a bust – though his teammates saw some else entirely.

“He has a will,” Markieff Morris said. “He just keeps going. He had a couple tough injuries, but he never stopped going. Just to get healthy, he worked so hard to get healthy.”

Said Eric Bledsoe: “He’s relentless.”

Now, its showing on the court.

Despite fracturing his finger during training camp, Len declared himself fully in shape now. He’s on pace to pass his minute total from last season by just Dec. 5.

One of the biggest differences from last year is Len’s ability to generate attempts in the paint. The percentage of his shots at the rim is up from 53 percent to 72 percent (and he’s making them at a higher clip, 67 percent to 56 percent).

“He’s active” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said of the 7-foot-1 Len. “He’s got a feel of where to be on the court, and his length has an effect on guys inside.”

In the last week, Len has put up 17 points and 11 rebounds in a loss to the Clippers and 19 points and seven rebounds in a win over the Celtics.

But Len is grateful just to be back on the court. That’s why an October win over the Spurs stands out to him. More than his 10 points and 11 rebounds, Len goes on about his career-high 32 minutes.

“I rarely played in college 30 minutes. Just playing against Tim Duncan,” Len said, “that felt great.”

LeBron becomes oldest player with 39 points, 11 boards, seven 3-pointers (he’s also the youngest)

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The first question after LeBron James put up 21 and 8 to help the Lakers beat the Spurs Friday night was whether he would play in the back-to-back Saturday. He had just missed five games with a groin strain, after all.

Not only did LeBron play Saturday, he had a historic night.

LeBron had 39 points, 11 rebounds, and shot 7-of-12 from 3 — making him the oldest player in the history of the NBA with a 35+, 10+ with seven 3-pointer game.

The youngest player ever to put up that stat line? Also one LeBron James.

The 39 points were also the second most points ever scored by a player in his 20th NBA season, trailing only Kobe Bryant gunning his way to 60 in his final game.

The Lakers got the second straight win over the Spurs on Saturday behind LeBron, 143-138, a game more likely to be remembered for Zach Collins getting ejected for a foul that left Russell Westbrook bloody. The Lakers have won three straight and 5-of-6 but have done it against a very soft part of the schedule (three of the wins were over the tanking Spurs). Los Angeles beat the teams in front of it and started to show signs of life this season, but now they have to carry that over into a stretch against better teams, beginning Monday against the Pacers.

Watch Deandre Ayton put up 29 points, 21 rebounds, lead Suns past Jazz 113-112

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PHOENIX (AP) — There was much debate during the NBA offseason about whether Deandre Ayton was worth a max contract.

On nights like Saturday, the answer is a resounding yes.

Ayton notched season highs with 29 points and 21 rebounds, Devin Booker added 27 points and the Phoenix Suns held on for a hard-fought 113-112 win over the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz led 81-78 after three quarters, but the Suns pushed ahead 99-93 by midway through the fourth. The game remained tight through the final minutes, but Phoenix never lost the lead. On top of Ayton’s scoring and rebounding, he also had a crucial steal in the final minutes that helped thwart a final Jazz rally.

“I don’t know what he ate for Thanksgiving,” Booker said. “I should have been over there.”

Ayton grabbed his 21st rebound of the game on the final possession, securing Booker’s miss off a 3-pointer to keep the Jazz from a final possession. Ayton signed a four-year, $133 million deal during the offseason after the Suns matched an offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers.

“That young man has been coming to the gym at crazy hours, lifting with (coaches), so that he can be prepared for moments like this,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It’s just good to see the work pay off. It’s good to see him have monster games against really good teams on a back-to-back. That’s pretty impressive.”

Ayton was the first player to have at least 28 points and 20 rebounds in a game for the Suns since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2007. He shot 11 of 19 from the field and added three assists and two blocks.

“I want to do more, I feel like I can do more,” Ayton said. “I’m just trying to do what I can to contribute to my team.”

Curiously, the Jazz didn’t foul the Suns on their final possession, essentially allowing them to run out the clock. Utah coach Will Hardy said the last play simply didn’t unfold like the team expected and there was some miscommunication.

“We wanted to get the ball out of Booker’s hands, and then foul,” Hardy said.

Ayton scored a season high for the second straight night. He poured in 28 points against the Pistons in a 108-102 win on Friday. Booker had a tough night shooting, making just 8 of 27 shots.

Utah was one of the NBA’s surprise teams in the first few weeks of the season, starting with a 10-3 record. The Jazz are just 3-7 since that point.

“One game, one stretch of the season doesn’t define your season,” Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk said. “You’ve got to go through ups-and-downs. Adversity – learn from it and come out the other side better for it.”

The Suns have an 11-1 record at home this season and have won four straight games.

Jordan Clarkson scored 22 points for the Jazz. Collin Sexton added 20 while Lauri Markkanen had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The Jazz had a 54-51 lead at halftime. Clarkson led the Jazz with 12 points while Ayton had 11 points and seven rebounds.

Watch Spurs Collins bloody Russell Westbrook with a foul, get ejected

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs
Ronald Cortes/Getty Images
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Jakob Poeltl was dominating the paint, scoring 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting with nine rebounds in 10 minutes, and giving the Lakers serious trouble. Then he had to leave the game with a sore quad, meaning Zach Collins would get more run.

Collins was ejected for a flagrant foul 2 on Russell Westbrook that left the Lakers guard bloodied. Westbrook bounced back up and LeBron James had to hold him back from going after Collins.

Collins plans to appeal the ejection he said after the game.

Collins will face a fine or suspension from the league, although he doesn’t have a history of this kind of foul, something the league takes into consideration. Westbrook also got a technical for going after Collins.

The Lakers went on to beat the Spurs 143-138, behind 39 points from LeBron James. It’s the second time the Lakers have defeated the Spurs in three days, the kind of wins over tanking teams the Lakers need if they are going to turn their season around.

Watch Victor Wembanyama drop 30-point double-double in France

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Maybe you spent your Saturday afternoon watching Lionel Messi doing Lionel Messi things. Or intense college football rivalries.

In France, they spent part of the day watching Kylian Mbappe be brilliant but then flipped over and watched future No.1 pick Victor Wembanyama drop a 30-point double-double.

That’s two straight 30-point double-doubles for Wembanyama.

He will be the No.1 pick next June (barring something catastrophic), and teams are already thinking about the lottery next June.

Expect some other teams to jump in that mix at the bottom because the depth of this class goes well beyond just Wembanyama with Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson and others. The tanking is coming people.