Milwaukee Bucks: How Larry Sanders Has Dominated Down Low

Nov 4, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) posts up against Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders (8) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 4, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) posts up against Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders (8) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

After a 15-67 record last season giving them the NBA’s worst record and second overall pick, the Milwaukee Bucks had a lot to improve upon this season in order to get their rebuilding project off to the right start.

Using that second overall pick to draft Jabari Parker out of Duke was a huge first step, and putting together a young roster that can grow around Parker will ultimately be the deciding factor on how high Milwaukee’s ceiling is.

The Bucks brought back a lot of talent from last season, just new and improved talent. John Henson is another year experienced and still looking to make a difference in the post, O.J. Mayo is slimmed down and more confident with his shot, and Brandon Knight is looking to have a breakout year in just his fourth NBA season.

Someone a lot of people overlook, however, is Larry Sanders.

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Sanders has always been a good rebounder and shot-blocker with a limited scoring game, but can string together some points, nonetheless. After missing the remaining month or so of last season due to a fractured bone in his face, Sanders went on to fail three separate drug tests, testing positive for the use of marijuana.

Drug use was just one of many issues Sanders had last season, and he came into this season looking to repair him somewhat tarnished record. Early on in the season thus far, Sanders looks mature, focused, and flat-out good.

Sanders has a fairly unique body frame, being only 230 pounds at 6-foot-11. While he is clearly tall, compared to someone like Marc Gasol–who Sanders matched up against recently–he just does not look very big at all.

How Sanders looks does not matter, but his slimness has given him problems on occasion with defending some of the bigger centers in the league. Even at his size, however, Sanders is still a great defender (makes defenders shoot 10.1 percent worse compared to their normal shooting percentage within six feet of the rim).

Sanders’ lower weight allows him to be much more active and isn’t restricted to sitting in or near the paint all night long. Unlike Roy Hibbert, for example (7-foot-2, 290 pounds), Sanders can cover the perimeter much better and is quick enough to retreat to the post if need-be.

This quickness also allows him to move a lot more on the offensive side of the court and does a pretty good job in pick-and-rolls because of it.

While feeding Sanders in the post might not be the Bucks’ top priority in their offense, he has made his impact with offensive rebounds, gathering 25 of them to place him 4th in the NBA in that category. Sanders is also tied for 14th (with Derrick Favors) in overall rebounds (8.4 per game).

Sanders slimness has also helped him in another defensive category early on in the season: steals. Because he can wander away from the rim, Sanders sees a lot more action towards the top of the key, resulting in plenty of steals to set up his teammates offensively.

He is tied for eighth (with Trevor Ariza) in steals with 13 (ranks ninth with 1.9 per game) and ranks higher than any other big man.

All that other stuff is great, but the most effective facet of Sanders’s game is the shot blocking. Behind only Hibbert and Anthony Davis, Sanders shares third with Pau Gasol in shots blocked this season with 15 and is fourth (with Gasol) in blocked shots per game at 2.1 with Andrew Bogut just ahead of him at 2.2.

Out of all the crazy stats in the basketball world, rebounding percentage shows how good a rebounder truly is. The stat shows the percentage of rebounds grabbed that could be grabbed, and Sanders ranks fifth in that department at 20.5 percent.

Sanders also ranks second in offensive rebounding percentage at 17.3 behind only Cavaliers’ forward Tristan Thompson.

Staying on the topic of percentages, Sanders places third in block percentage (same concept of rebounds, just with blocks) at 7.1.

Put all of those numbers together and you will see that Sanders boasts an overall defensive rating of 89.5, placing him behind only Bogut and Stephen Curry.

Win shares is another one of those funky stats that is probably unnecessary, but we still use it because we’re nerds. The stat gives a defender (or offensive player) credit for winning his team a game or games just from his contributions on that side of the court.

Sanders has recorded 0.5 defensive win shares this season, placing him 11th in the league (four others have 0.5 DWS).

To go along with every other defensive stat in basketball, Sanders ranks 2nd behind Bogut in defensive box plus/minus at 5.8.

While spitting stats may not be the best way to prove Sanders is good at basketball, it is hard to ignore them. He ranks atop the league (for the most part) in anything and everything you would want your center to do, unless you want your center to carry the offensive load.

In that case, Sanders isn’t very good.

The majority of teams look for rebounding and defense out of their big men down low, and Sanders does those two things exceptionally. If Sanders were to develop any sort of an consistent offensive game, he could easily be considered a top seven center in the league.

For what the Bucks are asking Sanders to do this season, he has done a fantastic job. Playoffs shouldn’t be expected this year, but if the Bucks keep the core of Knight (free agent this offseason), Parker, and Sanders together, they could soon make a return to the postseason.

Next: NBA Player Power Rankings: Does Brandon Knight Make The Cut?