How Will We Know If Phoenix Suns' Rookie Alex Len Is a Bust?

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterDecember 5, 2013

PORTLAND, OR - OCTOBER 9:  Alex Len #21 of the Phoenix Suns boxes out Meyers Leonard #11 of the Portland Trail Blazers on October 9, 2013 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Nineteen games, 31 minutes, No. 5 pick overall. 

We won't know for sure whether Alex Len is a bust until his rookie contract expires. Let's not write the kid off before he's healthy enough to play. 

But it's only natural to feel disappointed and ultimately worried about his outlook.

Still, Len was never a prospect classified as NBA-ready to begin with. If you were expecting him to compete for Rookie of the Year, you've been misled. 

In two years at Maryland, Len hit the 20-point mark only twice. His upside had been flashed in short, sporadic spurts, as opposed to steady streams of production. 

However, his raw skill set alone, isn't the red flag here. What's worrisome is that it belongs to a guy with brittle bones.

Since finishing college, Len has already had a surgery on each foot, and was forced to sit out the combine and summer league in July. 

Len has already missed 15 of the Suns' first 19 games of the year with soreness, something that's unlikely to disappear in the upcoming months. 

“We decided to shut it down to get it completely better", Len told Paul Coro of Azcentral Sports. "It’s just frustrating to be able to play a couple games and then it gets worse."

That has to be the last thing Suns fans want to hear. 

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 17: Alex Len #21 of the Phoenix Suns in a game against the Sacramento Kings on October 17, 2013 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using
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You have to be a little concerned, given the connection and history of big men with lower-body injuries, particularly to the feet and ankles. The biggest fear with Len is that he remains day-to-day for the next three-to-four years. If he can't stay on the floor, he'll never get the opportunity to adjust and build any rhythm. 

In his debut against the Portland Trail Blazers, Len picked up three fouls in eight minutes. He was called for four fouls in 13 minutes the next game against the Utah Jazz. Even though it's only been a few stretches, the tape is fairly clear—Len is not prepared to handle regular NBA minutes at the moment. Before he can even think about becoming a viable option in the post, it's going to take time for Len just to grasp hold of his surroundings. 

That's why it's so important he stays healthy early in his career. A lingering injury has the potential to draw out what would have already been a long transition process. 

But we're not going to know whether Len is a bust until the 2015-16 season. If foot issues continue to hamper him, or he's unable to crack the rotation (Kendall Marshall), that's when you start to panic that a top-five pick has gone to waste.

The Suns ultimately took Len with the intentions of making him their long-term franchise center—not this current team's short-term savior. It would be premature to start referring to Len as a draft bust, considering he shouldn't have been expected to make much of an impact early on anyway.

It's just that injuries are out of everyone's control. And when they plague a guy who desperately needs the time to develop, it makes it awfully tough to do so. 

Let's give him two years to show what he can or cannot do before sounding the alarm. But he's fair game after that.