The Milwaukee Bucks were watching the NBA finals, this much I can assure you. After finding themselves on the short end of the length and athleticism stick in their own first round series, the Milwaukee Bucks watched the Los Angeles Lakers with their towering front line of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom win rebound battles and block shots. Perhaps it was earlier than that, or perhaps it was during the finals, one way or another the Bucks decided if they’re were going to take the next step they’d need to beef up their front line, add length and add athleticism on their front line to compete with the better teams in the NBA.
Enter Larry Sanders.
The 15th pick in the 2010 NBA draft needn’t be a savior for the Bucks franchise, but that doesn’t mean the Bucks think they got some ordinary run of the mill player on their hands.
“I would really classify him as something different than we have on our team right now,” said Bucks GM John Hammond Thursday night after the NBA draft concluded.
Milwaukee was impressed with the 6-foot-10-inch Sanders and his near 7-foot-6-inch wingspan. They envision him a help on the defensive end at power forward who should be able to contribute offensively in the future. Sanders made 53.4% of his shots last season and averaged 14.4 points and 9.1 rebounds. Many feel Sanders best days lie ahead of him, as he’s only been playing basketball for six years and played at a small college. Hammond acknowledged that Sanders is “still a little bit raw”, but didn’t want to label him a project by any means.
“This is coach’s call, but I do think you can put on the floor immediately just because of what he can do on the defensive end and how he can rebound. When you think about first round picks, for the most part, people will say, ‘is he a project, is he ready to play’ those sort of things,” Hammond said. “It all comes down to opportunity. If a guy gets an opportunity and performs, people don’t call him a project, they say he can play. The key is for a guy though is to deserve the right and earn the right to play. No gifts.”
As far as Sanders is concerned, he knows how he’ll handle things offensively on the next level, “definitely face up and attack the rim more,” said Sanders over the phone after his selection. But easy buckets may come for Sanders in transition. Hammond was very complimentary of the Bucks new power forward’s speed.
“He is easily I think, the fastest big in the draft and maybe one of the fastest players flat out in the draft,” said Hammond. “His speed from endline to endline is absolutely amazing for a guy his size. And he runs so easy.”
DraftExpress worries about what has happened to Sanders on the defensive end over his last few years in college.
His awareness and fundamentals leave something to be desired, as does his intensity level, as he isn’t always as physical as he needs to be, not really using his body very well and appearing to lack a degree of toughness in his play. His shot-blocking production has fallen off each season, from 7.4 per-40p to 4.2 to 3.7 this year as well.
For a guy with a wingspan like Sanders, it’s puzzling why his shot-blocking production has fallen off so significantly after each season. His block percentage as a freshman was 19%, an incredible Hassan Whitesideesque number, but it fell to just 9% last season. Still, that 9% left Sanders ranked 30th nationally in blocked shots percentage. For what it’s worth, the Bucks aren’t considered about the dip in shot blocking production.
“I think maybe as much as anything, players started to realize that, why drive the ball if you’re not going to get it to the basket,” said Hammond.
Sanders was asked what he felt was most ready for the NBA about his game.
“I think my energy, the way I run the court and use my athleticism,” said Sanders. “The way I defend, although I have to get stronger. Those are things I definitely think are NBA ready.”
He could be the running mate so many fans have desired for Brandon Jennings, who lost his last two lob partners in Hakim Warrick and Amir Johnson. Unlike those two, Sanders appears to be sticking around for a while. He won’t be relied upon for big minutes out of the gate, but he could fill a defensive role for 15-20 minutes a night alongside Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute at the power forward spot for Milwaukee. Sanders was excited about getting to play with Jennings.
“He’s an exciting player, a young player,” said Sanders. “Every time I get a chance to watch him I do, because he’s very entertaining to watch. He’s exciting, explosive, I’m very very very excited to play with him.”