Europeans Len, Porzingis blossoming into top NBA big men

Alex Len, from Ukraine, and Kristaps Porzingis, from Latvia, are two of the more talented European big men to emerge in the NBA in recent years.

Anthony Gruppuso/Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

PHOENIX — Wednesday night’s matchup between the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks features a battle between two young European big men, the Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis, who is a top candidate for Rookie of the Year, and the Suns’ Alex Len, who is having a monster stretch of games as of late.

"He’s a young player that has a nice touch for the game," Suns center Tyson Chandler said of Porzingis. "(He’s) a big guy that can spread the floor and knock down jump shots; a very skilled big man. He’s been able to come in and pick up the pace of the game real fast."

"He can shoot, which is not normal for a guy of his size," Len said.

Chandler has been impressed with the composure of Porzingis, a Latvian who was booed on draft night and has had to learn to deal with the limelight that comes with being a star in New York.

"I think he’s handled it great," said Chandler, who spent three of his 14 NBA seasons with the Knicks. "He’s come in and it seems like he’s just kept his head down and worked very hard. I think he’s implemented himself into the offense very well and things are going pretty good for him."

Porzingis is averaging 13.9 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game to go along with 1.9 blocks per game. He’ll be matched up with Len, from Ukraine, most of the night.

Len’s last five games have been the best stretch of his three-year career, averaging 20.4 points per game and 14.4 rebounds per game over that time period. He has responded well to an increase in his minutes and a more consistent starting role. While averaging 21.1 minutes per game over the course of the season, over the last five games he has played nearly 36 minutes per game.

"I think it’s a unique matchup for every person in this position," Suns interim coach Earl Watson said. "We’re not really going to adjust to other teams though. We’re going to try to make them adjust to us and be the best at who we are."

The last time the Suns played the Knicks it was in New York two months ago and it was a completely different team. Jeff Hornacek was still the head coach and Markieff Morris was still on the team.

Phoenix lost 102-84, but they were able to hold Porzingis to only seven points and seven rebounds in his first game back from an injury. Len only played 17 minutes and put up six points and seven rebounds.

"Everything is going to be different," Len said. "We got the whole entire team is different right now and different coach. We play different basketball, so it’s going to be a totally different game than it was two months ago."