Larry Sanders just signed a four-year, $44 million contract extension this summer, and his team and their fans should be thrilled.
The Milwaukee Bucks’ 6-foot-11, 235-pound big man out of Virginia Commonwealth University is the best there is when it comes to keeping the air space around the rim free from attack. If you’re looking for the most exciting defensive highlight reel from last year’s NBA season, simply do a YouTube search of his name.
After playing just 12.4 MPG in 2011-12, Sanders saw his minutes increase to 27.3 per game last season, and it was one of the biggest reasons the Bucks were able to reach the playoffs. His 2.8 blocks per game were second-best in the league. He was also a top-20 rebounder, averaging 9.5 per game. However, the impact Sanders has on a game is not best represented in a box score.
Few players have the combination of quickness, speed and length that Sanders possesses. It is this unique combination that allows him to be the defensive force that he is. Sanders has the ability to cover an incredible amount of space instantly.
Though he will seemingly be standing motionless with arms outstretched while the offense blows by perimeter defenders and breaks into the lane, he is simply drawing his opponents further into his scheme. Just as you think the opposing team is about to get a good look at a layup due to Sanders’ apparent laziness, he bursts into the air and swats the ball away with relative ease.
Even if he doesn’t reach the ball, his sudden quickness will often cause the shooter to alter his shot and miss or make a snap decision that often results in a turnover and fast break going the opposite way.
While Sanders lacks much of an offensive repertoire, relying mostly on lobs from teammates and put-back slams, he has shown a strong work ethic. His FG percentage has increased each season he’s been the league. His 61.8 percent free throw shooting last season was a career-high, and a vast improvement upon the horrifying 47.4 percent in 2011-12.
Unfortunately, this career-high is still well below the league average, and he still has a long way to go to become a serviceable offensive player. Furthermore, jawing about former teammates not passing the ball to him enough could paint the image that he doesn’t grasp how much work he has to put in to become even an average threat on the offensive end of the floor.
Regardless, at just 24 years of age and entering only his fourth NBA season, Sanders is already the league’s best interior defender. The scary thing is that he is only going to get better. These two things make his contract extension worth the money.
Opposing offenses have to adjust their style of play simply because he is on the court. At this point, his reputation alone will keep opposing guards from routinely driving the lane while Sanders is on the floor. He is one of only a few players who can alter a game solely with his defense. This is an almost invaluable quality in the NBA, and fortunately for Bucks’ fans, he’s not going anywhere. Expect big things from Sanders this season.