He’s so fast, Andrew Bogut tweeted after the first day of training camp this season that he should be in the Olympics for the 800 meter. His wingspan is long enough to have some crazy, “Did you hear what Larry Sanders can do?” anecdote attached to it. He blocked eight shots in one game last year, despite largely struggling to learn the positioning skills required of his position in the NBA.
Larry Sanders is the prototypical raw, athletic big man, the type of player Milwaukee hasn’t had since Marcus Haislip.
But Sanders isn’t Marcus Haislip. He isn’t anyone else in the league. He’s the rare creative goofball. That picture up there? That’s one of his works (found on his Tumblr). As a child Sanders was quick to pick up a pen. Always a pen.
“Art was my first love really,” Sanders said. “I started drawing a lot when I was younger. I was really into comics and cartoon art, but I couldn’t draw with a pencil though, I could only draw with a pen, so I’d have scrapbooks.”
Of course, anyone who has ever drawn, or done a math problem for that matter, knows the drawbacks of using pen. Sanders went through scrapbooks about as quick as he heads up and down the court now.
“They would come with 50 pages, but I would end up with only 12 because I had do throw those pages away when I messed up,” Sanders said. “It was just a love of mine that I kept going with.”
In addition to his drawings, Sanders also spends time designing skateboards as seen in his Facebook profile picture (H/T Jake McCormick). He’s no brooding, starving artist though. Sanders goofiness shines through all the time, like on media day when he spent his time recording every person who came to interview him. When he wasn’t the subject of a questioner, he would stroll around engaging his teammates for his own version of the Larry Sanders Show on Bucks.com.
But the engagement and the lightheartedness means little in the grand scheme of things if Sanders play on the court doesn’t begin to fall more in line this season with what his athletic abilities suggest it could be. Plagued last season by confusion and a set of hands that appeared cover in oil rather than glue, Sanders struggled to find consistent playing time. When he did play, his rebounding numbers were disappointing.
Early on this season, while his hands don’t appear to be a steel trap just yet, returns in general haven’t been too bad two games in. Scott Skiles had kind words for Sanders prior to the Bucks game against Minnesota Tuesday.
“Larry was very good last night (against the Bobcats), that was one of his better halves he’s played,” Skiles said of his first half in the Bucks opener. “He was very, very active. He’s one guy that we have that can go above the rim and rebound the ball with two hands. He was very good. Larry’s never struggled to have some decent moments, it’s just piecing it together game after game.”
The improvements have been most notable in Sanders’ rebounding. After posting a defensive rebound rate of just 16.3% last season, Sanders has been a terror through two games with a rate of defensive rebounds grabbed while he’s on the court of 31.3%. The rebounding improvements can’t be attributed to something crazy, like him gaining 50 pounds of muscle or adding five inches to his vertical this summer. Sanders is just becoming more comfortable on the court and aware of his surroundings.
“It’s not something you can really train for physically,” Sanders said. “That came from watching film and really trying to focus in on things where I had mental lapses and trying to stay focused. That comes with being in the NBA. Just being out of position or leaving my feet too early on pump fakes causing a foul. Depending on where we are in the game, that could be a penalty, could be two points. Those things you can’t afford to do and that’s where I need to get better at.”
He’s not there yet. Sanders still picks up silly fouls, like on a fake by JJ Barea Tuesday night. And an impossibly obvious travel on Tuesday comes to mind as a mental mistake as well. But he might be getting there. And the better Sanders gets at those things, the more his charisma can shine through. For a team desperate for athleticism, entertainment and talented young players, Sanders could be everything the Bucks are looking for.
Whether or not he’s that guy remains to be seen.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.