Let's be honest about NBA Media Day(s). If you are looking for vague pronouncements on the high quality of a team, or if you need reassurances that players prefer to play well and teams prefer to win, it's the land of milk and honey. If you want unfiltered basketball opinions or substantive talk on the finer points of the game, it's a barren wasteland. At 2012 Media Day for the Milwaukee Bucks, Larry Sanders thankfully provided some refreshing reflections and thoughts that broke from this otherwise familiar mold.
Back during Vegas Summer League play, I wrote about the best and worst of Larry Sanders. His best assets are his length and shot blocking ability:
Ever since his rookie season I have maintained that he contests jumpshots more effectively than anyone I've ever seen -- for reference, he held opponents to just 0.57 points per possession on spot-up jumpers last season and 0.70 ppp in 10-11 (the No. 4 and No. 7 marks in the NBA, respectively), according to MySynergySports.com.
His overall defensive numbers from the 2011-12 campaign are just as good (over a small sample size), as he posted an impressive -10.3 points per 100 possessions for an on/off-court differential. In contrast, his weaknesses include: a propensity to foul, a lack of rebounding production and an offensive game that is marred by turnovers and ill-advised long jump shots.
To his credit, Larry spent his time with the media on Monday talking about how he plans to improve upon his weaknesses. Let's see if you can spot his buzz word:
Larry Sanders with best comment so far today: said he focused on his pacing with plays in the paint during the summer. Very smart thought— Steven von Horn (@StevevonHorn) October 1, 2012
Larry saying he spent the summer focusing on where he "should be on the floor." working on staying in the paint and avoiding long jumpers— Steven von Horn (@StevevonHorn) October 1, 2012
Larry Sanders' buzz word: PACE. He is genuinely focused on the concept, from the sound of things. Kudos to him— Steven von Horn (@StevevonHorn) October 1, 2012
If you guessed: "uhhh, didn't you just explicitly tell us Sanders' buzz word..." then you are correct! Anchoring in the paint is a simple instruction to follow -- in fact, I've asked him to operate more like rookie John Henson, who already "plays as if the restricted area exerts a keen gravitational pull on him."
When asked about the issue, Sanders readily acknowledged that the paint is where he "should be on the floor," because his primary job on offense will be to grab rebounds and position himself for put backs at the rim. When subsequently asked where the team wants him to be on the floor, he laughed and reiterated his own point of emphasis: "they want me to be in the paint."
The geographical focus on paint play is easy to practice and even easier to judge -- either he spends more time in the paint or he doesn't -- but what impressed me the most was Larry's constant talk about playing with better "pace" on offense.
Turnovers have definitely been a problem, too. From '10-11 to '11-12, Sanders suffered a big spike in his turnover percentage. He turned the ball over on (an estimated) 11.59% of his possessions during his rookie season, but it jumped to 17.64% last year. For a guy who doesn't dish out assists or handle the ball, that's a pretty awful number, and in the world of advanced stats a turnover is far worse than just a missed perimeter jumper because jumpers at least present a chance to recover the ball on an offensive rebound.
The key point is that Sanders turns the ball over too much. His defensive virtues can't shine through unless he manages to become passable on offense. The entire process turned into a vicious cycle last season: Sanders mishandled a pass or turned the ball over ---> his teammates (and Skiles) let him touch the ball less often ---> he pressed harder to make plays with the few opportunities he received ---> he turned the ball over even more often ---> etc., etc., etc.
Pace is an abstract concept to apply on the court in non-game situations -- how exactly do you practice your pace in an empty gym? -- but it's also a perfect concept to redirect and reshape Sanders' mindset. It's a word he can carry with him every time he steps on the hardwood. For a guy who just needs to blend in on offense and let his defensive abilities impact games, I couldn't think of a more perfect word to implant in his brain.
This could be more media day bluster that simply sneaked past my radar detectors, but if it's not, the Bucks will have another valuable weapon to use on the floor. Here's to hoping Sanders breaks his vicious cycle on offense, because he's got something good going on the other end of the floor.