Ukrainian-born Alex Len isn’t necessarily a prime candidate to have grown up an Atlanta Hawks fan.
But he did.
“Our first Ukrainian NBA player was Alexander Volkov,” Len said Friday afternoon. “He played on the team here. So I grew up kind of watching Atlanta a little bit. It was before my time, but he was the first NBA player out here.”
On Friday afternoon, Len signed a contract to join the Hawks, agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million deal with the same franchise Volkov spent two seasons. Len said the deal came together rather quickly, only learning of the Hawks’ serious interest from his agent in late July.
Len’s journey to this point has been filled with ups and downs. After he selected by the Phoenix Suns with the fifth pick in 2013, he played only nine minutes per game his rookie season.
And while he became a consistent role player with the Suns — playing over 20 minutes and averaging over six points and six rebounds per game in each of the past four seasons — Len never truly ascended into the stardom some had projected when he left Maryland.
Part of that has to do with his skillset as a traditional big man being increasingly neglected in many modern NBA systems. Another part, he said, was the volatility of his time in Phoenix. The Suns were 48-34 his rookie season. They averaged only 27 wins per season the preceding four.
“I had it all in Phoenix, in all five years,” Len said. “I had a bunch of coaches. I had a lot thrown at me. So I’ve seen it all. The most things I’ve seen are you’ve got to enjoy the journey, have fun with it.”
But Len thinks he can help play an important role in Atlanta. Evidently, the Hawks do, too.
While he said he is trying to expand his shot beyond the 3-point line — he’s taken only 25 total in his five seasons — Len won’t be shying away from what he thinks he does best.
“(Fans) can expect a lot of intensity, a lot of dunking. I’m trying to expand my game to shoot more 3’s. I can shoot them,” Len said. “The last couple 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.”
Much of that, he feels, melds well with what the rebuilding Hawks are constructing. Len, only 25 himself, likes the fit of a young team that will set lots of ball screens and run the floor. That’s where he feels he thrives best, and that’s what he thinks the Hawks will offer.
He voluntarily mentioned new Hawks point guard Trae Young as somebody who will benefit from his presence on the court.
“You have somebody like Trae, you’ve got to get him open,” Len said. “It’s about setting great screens and rolling hard to the rim, that’s going to open up shots for him and plays for guys around him. Then all the other stuff I won’t worry about is going to come.”
While much of this is new to Len, who has been in Atlanta for a total of two days, he’s excited about the chance. He has a change of scenery, a new system, a new city, a patient young organization, stability.
And while he’s at it, Len thinks the Hawks will win some games.
“I mesh well with the young core. So for the long-term, I thought it would be the best time,” he said. “It’s an opportunity right there in the East — what, there’s only four or five teams that are really good? I think we can surprise a lot of teams.”
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