Larry Sanders is an awesome defender. It's pretty simple, really. He's long, athletic, mobile and altogether anatomically designed to frustrate offensive players in the paint. Sanders transforms the Milwaukee Bucks into an outstanding defensive team. When he's on the floor, the Bucks are better than the best defense in the NBA. When he heads to the bench, they turn into a bottom-five unit.
The stats go deep. NBA teams have converted 58.4 percent of shots inside five feet this season, but opponents only hit 51.4 percent against the Bucks when Sanders is on the floor. When he's out that number jumps to 60.0 percent. As of Jan. 10, Larry Sanders leads the NBA in total blocks (107), blocks per game (3.24) and blocks per 48 minutes (6.3).
He doesn't just swap shots into the stands, either. Controlled deflections end possessions and lead to fast break opportunities, and thankfully Sanders seems passionate about maximizing the value of each block. That makes him doubly intimidating -- the stakes are especially high for opponents who test his skills -- and even when he can't get his hand on a shot he has probably affected the trajectory of the release.
It's not all sunshine and rainbows with Larry Sanders. His propensity to foul can still become problematic, but to a certain extent the fouls come part and parcel with Larry's predisposition to challenge every attempt he encounters around the rim.
He could stand to learn that sometimes, when you aren't in good position to challenge a shot, it's okay to concede a bucket or two in the paint to avoid costly fouls that would otherwise keep you off the floor. It's likely a lesson best absorbed in the playoffs, where every minute is precious and teams employ schemes to knock out big men with fouls. Hopefully Larry will discover that he can become even more effective if he selectively curbs his enthusiasm for blocks in certain situations.
I spent the early portion of the season [ 1 | 2 | 3 ] pumping up Larry Sanders as the next big thing for the Bucks, but it's time for a more extended celebration. In that vein, allow me to introduce my first post in a series dedicated to every Sanders block of the 2012-13 season.
(1) Have fun and highlight the one true bright spot of the 12-13 Milwaukee Bucks.
(2) Present and analyze every block by Larry Sanders this season.
(3) Rank the entire collection of blocks based on a combination of factors:
- Effectiveness - did the block result in an immediate change of possession? The blocked shots most worth celebrating are the ones that the Bucks recover and turn into fastbreak opportunities. Sending a shot out of bounds looks cool, but the opponent gets the ball back and for another look at the rim. The best shot blockers focus their efforts on taking shot opportunities away from the other team, so this factor is the most important one to me.
- Timeliness - did Sanders turn back a shot attempt at a key moment in the game?
- Initimidation - was the swat so emphatic (or so easy) that it negatively impacted an opponent for the rest of the night?
- Style - was the rejection so damn beautiful that it launched the crowd into chants of "Larry, Larry, Larry!" at home or sucked the air out of an arena on the road?