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Opportunity knocks for Sanders and Douglas-Roberts

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Aside from Bogut, Sanders is the only Buck capable of doing this

In an ideal world, the Bucks wouldn't need Chris Douglas-Roberts and Larry Sanders right about now. If all was going according to plan, they would just be working their way into Scott Skiles' rotation, battling with their more experienced teammates for playing time as they try to carve out niches on one of the deepest rosters in the East. After all, Douglas-Roberts had yet to play a minute of regular season action leading up to his Bucks debut on Saturday night, and after two mostly disappointing years in New Jersey, you'd forgive him for taking a few games to get his bearings in a new system that actually requires a modicum of defensive effort. Much of the same would go for a rookie like Sanders, whose first month has been spent on the business end of the NBA learning curve, adjusting to the physicality of the game and the nuances of the Bucks' playbook.

Then again, in an ideal world the Bucks wouldn't be 6-10 and coping with injuries to Andrew Bogut, Carlos Delfino, Corey Maggette, and Drew Gooden. But alas, this is the hand the Bucks have been dealt, which means our best laid plans have been tossed by the wayside. So ready or not, Sanders and CD-R will be getting every opportunity to show their worth--and learn on the job--as the Bucks kick off their most challenging month of the season.   

The Education of Larry Sanders

Starting for the first time in his career, Sanders logged his third straight solid outing in the Bobcat game, scoring ten points in 25 minutes and serving as the only Buck capable of defending the rim against Charlotte's penetrating guards and athletic frontline. Among the negatives, Sanders collected just three rebounds as the Bucks were outrebounded for the first time in three weeks, and foul trouble limited his minutes throughout. But we also saw more flashes of the 21-year-old's offensive potential, as he started the game with a confident mid-range jumper before running into deep position to set up a short hook minutes later. In the second he sealed his man on a post catch and spun baseline for an emphatic dunk, and later he used his excellent speed to get out on the break and nearly finish through contact (and thankfully he made his first career free throws).  

Overall, Sanders' performances over the past week have been more encouraging than outright impressive, but given Skiles' other options that will have to do. Andrew Bogut has now missed three straight games due to reported back spasms and won't be with the team on current the two game trip to Utah and Denver beginning Monday. Given the way the Bucks protect information related to injuries, it may be a while before we know what's going on, but the reality is that the Bucks are heading into the most brutal part of their schedule without their best player. 

Given those circumstances, Skiles probably isn't thrilled about having to throw his rookie big man into the fire, but he seems to be realizing it's the best option he has for now, particularly with Drew Gooden also struggling with plantar fasciitis. For Skiles, that means living with some rookie mistakes:

"He was a good shot blocker in college (at Virginia Commonwealth) but in large part because he stood by the basket and blocked shots. Up here you're actually guarding a guy who can shoot and sometimes even shoot threes at his position.

"So you have to be able to move around and react to things that are happening. We're going to live with some inexperienced mistakes that he makes."

Up until the Charlotte game, Skiles had preferred the 6'7" Jon Brockman as the primary backup to Bogut, but Sanders' extended minutes in Detroit and start against Charlotte suggest that Skiles may finally be coming to grips with Brockman's obvious limitations in the pivot. Though he's strong enough to hold his position against most NBA bigs, his below-the-rim style limits his ability as a help defender, he's an offensive non-factor on everything but putbacks, and even his rebounding ability seems to have abandoned him so far. After a month of action, Brockman's rebound rate has suffered a massive dropoff from a year ago (13.1% vs. 18.7% a year ago), and he's often looked overmatched battling against NBA centers down low. The ankle injury he suffered at the end of the preseason may also have something to do with it, and in general I don't think Brockman has suddenly become a bad rebounder after excelling in that department in college and as a rookie. But the fact that he's just not a center would seem the most obvious explanation for his early struggles. Really insightful, eh?

That said, whether Sanders can hack it immediately as a 25-30 mpg guy remains a major question, especially given his own inconsistency on the glass (12.7% rebound rate), his lack of strength on the block, and his penchant for racking up fouls. Sanders' numbers in limited minutes don't paint a pretty picture either, but they're getting better. And at 6'11" with a 7'6" wingspan and excellent quickness, he should have every chance to develop into a disruptive defender capable of playing either big position. Odds are that the coming months will be more educational than productive, but that might be the best option the Bucks have.

Douglas-Roberts wastes no time making an impact

A month after a Bogut poke in the eye nearly blinded him, Douglas-Roberts returned just in time to take the injured Maggette's spot on the bench against Charlotte, scoring 10 points on six shots to offer a much-needed boost for the offensively-challenged Bucks. Doing his best Delfino impression, he connected on three long spot-up jumpers (one a three) before a more CD-R-like drive, hoop, and harm with 90 seconds left appeared to seal the game for the Bucks.

On the flip side, he also looked overmatched at times on defense, committing weak fouls that led to three separate three point plays: Dominic McGuire on a putback, Kwame Brown on a close finish, and Shaun Livingston on a short jumper just moments after CD-R's own late three point play. He was known as a competent defender in college, so I'll cling to the hope that Skiles gets the most out of him, but it also stands to reason that two years in Jersey didn't help his development on that front.

In the big picture, Douglas-Roberts' availability also means Skiles finally has a legit two guard he can turn to when Salmons is misfiring--which unfortunately seems to be about 90% of the time of late. Now I'd like to think that Skiles' unshakable confidence in Salmons thus far has had a lot to do with the fact that the Bucks had no other options (sorry, Keyon), but I also doubt Salmons' starting gig is in serious danger even with CD-R back on the active roster. Could CD-R steal some of Salmons' late-game minutes on certain nights?  Sure, and don't overlook the benefit of both a) giving Salmons some extra rest and b) not requiring the unproductive Dooling to put in time at backup SG. CD-R could also play next to Salmons as we saw against Charlotte, with Luc Mbah a Moute sliding over to PF. Options are good, aren't they? 

However he's used, CD-R still has much to prove before anyone mistakes him for a starting-caliber guard, which is precisely why it cost the Bucks almost nothing to get him from New Jersey this summer. While he's young and will hopefully hit his stride in Milwaukee, CD-R has yet to show the kind of passing ability or three-point range that Salmons has displayed in recent years, and for all his scoring savvy he hasn't been an efficient NBA scorer thus far. So the role of understudy seems appropriate for now. Moreover, so long as Maggette and Delfino remain sidelined, the Bucks will remain perlously thin on the wings, with only Salmons and CD-R as true swingmen (no, I don't put Luc Mbah a Moute in that category). Ideally, the Bucks will get healthy soon and have options when Salmons isn't getting it done, but we're not there yet.