I’ll admit to not watching as much NBA League Pass as I did last year, but there are a few interesting surprises in the NBA this year that I’d like to make note of. Every year there are a few guys who seem to suddenly “get it” without previously showing that they might. Though it’s early in the year, I think Larry Sanders might be a guy who goes from sub-average to above-average for the Milwaukee Bucks.
I wasn’t really enamored with the #15 overall pick back in 2010 – I hadn’t seen him play as much as I had other prospects, and I didn’t know exactly what his skillset was. Obvious he’s not a shooter, and he didn’t put up amazing rebounding numbers, but he averaged over 2 blocks per game every year in college (at VCU – not exactly playing top-flight competition in the Colonial Association). It would appear that Coach Skiles agreed with me, as Sanders only ranked #11 in minutes on a sub-.500 Bucks team. While his defense and rebounding was good in limited minutes, his offense more than made up for it, shooting a mere 43 percent for the season (which is fine for a guard, but terrible if you’re scoring in the paint).
During the 2011-12 season, Sanders’s numbers improved, but not enough to warrant additional playing time. His per-36-minutes numbers put him at 10 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks, which is great, but his shooting percentage still hovered around 45 percent – not quite good enough to stay on the floor.
But so far this season, he’s been earning minutes and playing lights-out basketball. As of this writing he’s shooting over 60 percent from the floor, and averaging 9 points, 8 rebounds, and over 2 blocks in just under 25 minutes per game. But statistics aside, what’s impressed me in the Bucks games I’ve watched is his defensive instinct. To be an elite shot-blocker in this league, you need to know exactly when to rotate, and to have impeccable timing to meet the ball at the summit. Larry Sanders clearly has that, and he’s one of those players who is very fun to watch play defense – much like Ron Artest was in his prime.