Deciding between Alex Len and JaVale McGee as the backup center

Feb 16, 2024, 11:46 AM | Updated: 12:53 pm

Alex Len #25 of the Sacramento Kings during the second half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on ...

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - JANUARY 16: Alex Len #25 of the Sacramento Kings during the second half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on January 16, 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Kings 119-117. 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. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

For most of last season, the Sacramento Kings have searched for a consistent answer at the backup center behind All-NBA big man Domantas Sabonis. They alternated between Richaun Holmes, Alex Len, Trey Lyles, and two-way player Neemias Queta. This season has been similar with Alex Len and JaVale McGee.

McGee, the three-time NBA champion who signed with Sacramento this offseason, has participated in 39 of their 54 games, while Len has logged 22 showings.

Mike Brown has alternated between those two options for the roughly 12-15 minutes that Sabonis rests each night, with Lyles being used to match an opposing team’s small lineups against the likes of Indiana and Golden State, for example.

McGee’s length and mobility provide a lob threat in the pick-and-roll for Malik Monk in the second unit. He is also a rim deterrent beyond the block statistics. At seven feet tall with a 7’6 wingspan, opposing players may think twice before driving into McGee.

“JaVale’s length is something that you can’t really teach,” Brown said. “He’s extremely long, and he’s a really, really good vertical threat in the pick-and-roll with Malik. He gets in and out of screens very, very well.”

Sacramento’s typical 116.1 defensive rating improves to 112.1, with McGee on the floor. But, their 116.6 offensive rating falls to 108.6 with McGee — not surprising, considering he’s replacing the Kings’ offensive hub in Sabonis.

Yet, Len’s on-court numbers are significantly more impressive. The Kings have managed a 98.5 (!!) defensive rating and 118.3 offensive rating with Len on the floor — totaling a net rating of 19.8. That’s a team-best in defensive and net rating while ranking second in offensive rating, only trailing Lyles’s 118.9.

“Alex, on the other hand, probably can play the DHO game a little bit better (than McGee), and he sets a different screen,” Brown said. “He’s more of a screen setter and a late roller than JaVale, and so he’s going to clean up a lot of stuff on the offensive glass when a shot goes up, or he might get a late dump pass because he’s diving late behind not necessarily a vertical threat.”

Len has had tough stretches with foul trouble, and McGee can be turnover-prone. Minimalizing mistakes is the name of the game for reserves who are backing up All-Star caliber players.

“And then defensively, JaVale is going to challenge more shots,” Brown continued. “Alex is going to go vertical and use a level of physicality when he goes vertical when it comes to challenging shots. But they both bring something good to the table, and I want to keep them both engaged because they both can help us at different times.”

The last part seems to be key. Brown has often referenced Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr teaching him the importance of playing everyone on the roster. As Brown said, giving players bench opportunities towards the end of the season should ‘keep them engaged’ during practices, their individual workouts, etc.

Yet, as the season winds down after the All-Star break, finding some consistency in that role could be crucial. While they provide varying skill sets, there are benefits to everyone on the floor to grow comfortable in their minutes and who they are sharing the floor with.

Coach Brown was transparent in his response when asked about his thought process with the backup center between Alex Len and JaVale McGee.

“There was a stretch where I was going every couple of games (alternating between Len and McGee), and if we were winning, that guy would still continue to roll because they both have done well for us throughout the course of the year,” he said.

Currently, Len has been the backup of choice for Sacramento. His production has been impressive throughout the course of the season, and he proved useful last postseason. And, statistically, it hasn’t been much of a competition considering Len’s aforementioned stellar numbers.

Having optionality at that spot could prove valuable, but finding some comfortability and consistency in the final 28 games of the season could have its benefits as well.

When is the next Sacramento Kings game?

Sacramento will enter the All-Star break looking to rest and recover for the final stretch of the regular season.

Once the Kings return from the week-long break, they will face rookie sensation Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs–owner of the worst record in the Western Conference–on Thursday, February 22nd, at Golden 1 Center.

Be sure to tune in right here on Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Spurs coverage, beginning at 5:30 PM PST on Game Night before a 7:00 PM PST tip-off from downtown Sacramento.

Upcoming Schedule

  • NBA All-Star break – February 15-21
  • Thursday, February 22nd – Sacramento Kings vs. San Antonio Spurs – 7:00 PM PST
  • Sunday, February 25th – Sacramento Kings @ Los Angeles Clippers – 6:30 PM PST
  • Monday, February 26th – Sacramento Kings vs. Miami Heat – 7:00 PM PST
  • Wednesday, February 28th – Sacramento Kings @ Denver Nuggets – 6:00 PM PST
  • Friday, March 1st – Sacramento Kings @ Minnesota Timberwolves – 5:00 PM PST

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Deciding between Alex Len and JaVale McGee as the backup center