The Milwaukee Bucks walked away from the 2010 NBA Draft with a gem, selecting VCU big man, Larry Sanders. Sanders finished his career as one of the best defensive players in the NCAA, racking up the Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year from 2008-10. With a combination of size, athleticism, and experience in big-time ball games (VCU’s NCAA tournament runs), Sanders offered many tools for the Bucks disposal.
Sanders NBA career began with him looking to carve out his niche, as one of the NBA’s talented defenders heading into his rookie season. During this time, Sanders did spent several stints in the NBA Development League with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and recalls up to the Milwaukee Bucks. Sanders would appear in a total of 112 games in his first two NBA seasons. This time allowed him to develop into the player that the team imagined upon drafting him, flashing shot-blocking ability (1.3 per game in two years). Going into Sander’s third NBA year, the young prospect gave fans a reason to be excited about his future. The year ended with Sanders’ career high and second place finish in blocks per game (2.8), behind Serge Ibaka (3.7) during the 2012-13 campaign. On Nov. 30, against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sanders joined elite company with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, notching a triple double (10 points, 12 rebounds, 10 blocks), and tying Abdul-Jabbar’s franchise record in blocks (10).
Milwaukee took advantage of a career-year by Sanders heading into the following season. On Aug. 20, 2013, the Bucks signed Sanders to a lucrative deal at four years, $44 million dollars. The contract definitely seemed like a sound investment for a rarity in players with a similar skillset as Sanders. Upon signing his deal, many things have changed for Sanders.
Appearing in only 23 games after his re-signing, the Bucks are watching both health, and off the court issues keep one of their integral young pieces out of games. The hype that was created by Sanders’ superb interior defense is definitely in limbo. Sanders’ entrance into the 2013-14 season began with an injury suffered in a fight at one of Milwaukee’s nightclubs. A thumb injury, which required Sanders to miss more than a month of the season, was the result of the trouble.
Dec. 27 marked his return to the Bucks during the season, and he managed to put up 10 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks in a 104-93 loss to the Brooklyn Nets. Tensions even brewed in the coming months, as former Milwaukee Buck guard Gary Neal (traded to the Charlotte Bobcats during the 2013-14 season), was involved in an argument with Sanders. Neal questioned Sanders’ effort and earning of his contract after a 116-100 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 4. Sanders never showed consistency in performances in between the time, when he would have his year end with orbital bone surgery on Feb. 8. To make matters worst, Sanders was recently quoted in his support of marijuana use in the NBA:
“The stigma is that it’s illegal. I hate that. Once this becomes legal, this all will go away. But I understand for my work it’s a banned substance. I will deal with the consequences and I apologize again to my fans for that (Via Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).”
Coincidentally, Sanders was suspended for five games this week, after failing his third marijuana test of his career.
The Bucks are hoping that each of the incidents surrounding Sanders will allow him to grow, and come back next season focused. At only 25 years of age, the objective of success and redemption can be set in place. Defensive ability like Sanders, as mentioned, can provide a solid foundation for a team with youth like Milwaukee. If the front office is willing to keep a close eye on Sanders, and his moves outside of the franchise, they can have much growth in the next season. I believe that Sanders will realize his importance to the franchise, and their confidence in him will shake the stains that cover his reputation. It may take time for all of these things to come to an end, but Milwaukee has time on their side during their rebuilding period, as they are a league-worst 15-64.