Could Larry Sanders have delivered the breakout game the Milwaukee Bucks have been waiting for since taking the 6-11 project out of VCU with the 15th overall pick in the 2010 draft?
Sanders has started the last eight games for the Bucks, who beat the Boston Celtics in overtime 99-94 Friday night thanks in large part to Sanders. The 24-year-old played a season-high 39 minutes and scored 17 points and grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds while hounding Kevin Garnett into a 6-for-22 night on the defensive end.
Sanders is averaging eight points and 8.2 boards per game this season, huge improvements over his marks from his first two seasons in Milwaukee. Sanders averaged four and three as a part-time player in 2010-11 and 2011-12. He averaged just 13.5 minutes a night and played in 112 games, starting 12.
But Sanders has gotten more run this year and is taking advantage. He’s shooting a career-high 53.9 percent from the floor, improved his free-throw percentage to 62.5 (he was at 52.3 for his first two years) and is among the league leaders in blocked shots with 71 in 24 games.
His numbers per 36 minutes are right in line with what a team wants from its starting center—11.7 points and 12 boards.
Sanders’ defensive rating of 93.9 leads the NBA right now, slightly better than Tim Duncan’s 94.4. That would be the same Tim Duncan who is being hyped as being worthy of becoming the oldest player ever named Defensive Player of the Year.
Sanders will never remind anyone of Wilt Chamberlain—or even Andrew Bogut—on the offensive end, but the Bucks don’t need Sanders to be a scorer. Rather, Milwaukee needs a defensive presence in the middle while Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings provide the bulk of the offensive production.
Dalembert recorded his fourth straight DNP-CD in Boston Friday night as coach Scott Skiles used only nine players in the overtime victory. Ekpe Udoh and Ersan Ilyasova were the only bigs to come off the bench in Boston.
With the win, Milwaukee improved to 14-11 and remained a game behind the Chicago Bulls in the Central Division. The Bucks are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference, percentage points ahead of the Indiana Pacers and two games up on the Philadelphia 76ers, who are in ninth place.
For a team that hasn’t qualified for the postseason since 2010 and hasn’t won a series in more than a decade (the last time Milwaukee moved past the first round was their conference finals appearance in 2001), it’s a huge step forward.
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