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.”

Kings hire WNBA’s Lindsey Harding as assistant coach

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Sacramento Kings have hired former WNBA player Lindsey Harding as an assistant and player development coach on Luke Walton’s staff.

The team also hired Stacey Augmon and Rico Hines on Friday.

Harding played nine years in the WNBA before working as a pro personnel scout and then player development coach for the Philadelphia 76ers.

She becomes the latest woman to serve as a coach in the NBA, joining others like Boston’s Kara Lawson, San Antonio’s Becky Hammon, Dallas’ Jenny Boucek and Cleveland’s Lindsay Gottlieb.

The Kings have a history of hiring female coaches, notably Nancy Lieberman and Boucek.

 

Wizards reportedly to finally remove interim tag from GM Tommy Sheppard

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Tommy Sheppard has been doing the work as the Wizards GM since April when Wizards owner Ted Leonsis finally ended Ernie Grunfeld’s run as team GM.

Sheppard was the GM through the draft. Through free agency. All the time with the “interim” tag on his job title. In Las Vegas for Summer League, plenty of other executives wondered why that tag was still on Sheppard’s title.

It’s finally coming off, reports Candace Buckner of the Washington Post.

The Washington Wizards removed the interim tag from Tommy Sheppard’s title Friday, promoting him to be the 12th general manager in franchise history, according to a person with knowledge of the situation…

The promotion of Sheppard, who will be entering his 17th season with the Wizards, mirrors the internal hiring decision Leonsis made with his hockey team. In 2014, Leonsis elevated Brian MacLellan as the Washington Capitals senior vice president and general manager after firing George McPhee. Before the promotion, MacLellan had spent the previous seven years under McPhee as an assistant general manager.

This likely will be made official in the next 48-72 hours.

Part of the delay may have been that a couple of prominent names were linked to the Wizards job at different times. There were reportedly talks with Tim Conley, who built Denver into a real threat, but he decided to stay in the Rockies. There were rumors of Masai Ujiri coming to the District, but he has chosen to stay in Toronto after winning a title.

Making Sheppard the full-time GM provides some stability just as the Wizards reach their most important moment of the summer.

On July 26 the Wizards can offer star two guard Bradley Beal a three-year, $111 million extension. The Wizards have been talking to Beal’s people and the offer will be made.

What Beal decides will decide the Wizards future for years. If Beal doesn’t sign that offer, the Wizards have to look at trading him. If he signs it, they need to build more around him.

Beal has spoken numerous times in the past about wanting to stay with the Wizards. However, there was plenty of informed speculation at Summer League that he is frustrated with the franchise and could choose to not sign it and essentially force his way out.

Either way, Beal’s decision will define the next steps for Sheppard for years.

 

Child tries to call out James Harden for step-back travels, he says it’s no travel

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If you tried this move in a high-school game 10 years ago, you would have been called for traveling.

In today’s NBA, as the rules are interpreted, James Harden‘s step back is not a travel.

At an event on Friday, a young fan tried to call Harden out on the travel and he defended himself. Via Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Harden’s stepback is not a travel (when he executes it properly). Even if it looks like it is.

Here is the play in question.

The official response — meaning from officials:

I know when you played Junior High basketball in 2002 that was a travel, but the NBA hasn’t called it that way in years.

The NBA rule here (Rule 10, Section XIII) simplified is a “gather and two steps.” Meaning one step while Harden is gathering the ball, plus two more. Nobody pushes the boundary of the gather step like Harden, he has mastered the grey area. But when he executes it properly — and he doesn’t every time — it’s not a travel.

No matter what that young boy’s father tells him.

Justin Holiday reportedly reaches deal with Pacers, will join forces with brother

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The Pacers just added the wing depth and some defense at the position they have been looking for.

It’s through someone they have long had their eye on, Justin Holiday, the six-year NBA veteran who split time last season between Chicago and Memphis. He has reached an agreement to join the Pacers — and his brother, Aaron Holiday — for a season in Indiana. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news.

The Pacers have been in touch with Holiday for a while, reports J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Holiday averaged 10.5 points a game last season, shot 34.7 percent from three, and played solid wing defense.

Victor Oladipo is the team’s best wing player, once he returns from injury (the Pacers are hoping around Christmas or a little after). Beyond him there is Jeremy Lamb, C.J. Wilcox, T.J. Warren, Doug McDermott, and Brian Bowen. Holiday can find minutes in that group.

This also sparks the dream of an all T.J./Holiday lineup. The Pacers have two Holidays, Justin and Aaron, as well as three un-related players named T.J. — T.J. McConnell, T.J. Warren, and T.J. Leaf. We need to see those five on the court together next season, if only for a few minutes.