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Suns’ Len looks forward to expanded role but must overcome broken finger

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Most top-five NBA draft picks are immediately featured in the plans of the teams that choose them, but an ankle surgery and the Phoenix Suns’ unexpected success last season had Alex Len waiting to contribute.

Now that he has healthy legs under him, Len said he is ready to make an impact.

“My ankles are healthy. Everything’s good. One of my goals in the offseason was to condition myself, and I came to camp in much better shape this season,” he said during last week’s training camp in Flagstaff.

But health became an issue again Tuesday, when Len fractured a pinky in practice. It’s the same finger he fractured in July’s NBA Summer League.

The Suns will reevaluate his status next week but for now say he is sidelined indefinitely.

Len, who averaged 2.0 points per game in 42 contests during his rookie season, said pre-draft ankle surgery hampered his conditioning throughout the year, limiting his playing time and role on the team. This preseason his improved conditioning and durability have coaches and teammates looking forward to an expanded role for the 7-foot-1 center from Ukraine.

“For a big guy who’s long, he’s able to get up the court,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said during training camp in Flagstaff. “At this altitude, it usually hits the bigger guys more than the guards, but Alex has been able to get up and down. He’s been impressive with his quickness and his finishing (around the basket) has improved.”

Hornacek said he could see Len worked hard in the offseason to come into camp ready to play, and with the departure of Channing Frye, big men like Len, Miles Plumlee and new acquisition Anthony Tolliver will be essential for Phoenix to compete in the Western Conference after surprising the league with 48 wins last season.

“Last year we able to slide Channing to the five spot (center) and play a three-man rotation, and then try to get Alex a few minutes here or there. This year will be different,” Hornacek said. “Anthony Tolliver isn’t as long, so he can’t slide to the five. Alex and Miles will have to play more of those minutes now.”

Plumlee, who was acquired in an offseason trade with Indiana, became a major contributor for the Suns last season with his hustle and rebounding. Viewed as a minor addition at the time of the trade, his emergence made some fans forget about the center of the future Len was billed as.

However, Plumlee said that doesn’t mean there isn’t enough playing time for everyone.

“I think everyone’s role will expand this season,” he said. “I think Alex will give us a big boost. He’s added some bulk to his frame as well, so his rim protection will be a huge plus.”

Although Len has yet to prove himself a dominant force in the post, Plumlee said no one on the team doubts his ability. Plumlee saw Len’s NBA promise two years ago when they played against each other in college.

“I thought he had a lot of potential,” he said. “He’s baby-faced, but he’s really long. His size is hard to come by and he has a great touch.”