After 23 minutes against the Brooklyn Nets, Larry Sanders has now played 640 minutes on the season. That’s significant because the third year pro played only 643 minutes in 52 games in last year’s lockout shortened 2011-12 season. So through virtually the same number of minutes, how is Sanders doing this year?
In a couple of words: SO GOOD.
I feel like I’ve written this post time and again this season, but Sanders just keeps producing and forcing me to do it again.
His key averages, points, rebounds and blocks, have all at least doubled as has minutes have done the same. That makes sense – more minutes equals more production. But maintaining or boosting his rates of production has been the most impressive part of Sanders’ season.
Despite an increase in minutes per games, Sanders has found a way to virtually maintain his insane block percentage, blocking nine percent of shots while he’s on the floor. Only 14 players who have qualified based on minutes per game for a season have blocked shots at such a rate. And seven of those players are just different Manute Bol seasons.
But we’ve long expected Sanders to excel as a shot-blocker. It’s his consistent rebounding that’s been such a treat to watch this season.
After collecting just 16 and 17 percent of misses on the defensive glass over his first two seasons, Sanders has grabbed better than 28 percent of all defensive rebounds available while he’s been on the floor this season. In nearly identical minutes, he’s grabbed 160 defensive boards this season after grabbing just 98 last. How has he changed as a rebounder? For one, he’s just been more active. He’s grabbing the ball out of the air and out of his direct area, rather than waiting for it to come to him. Take these two photos for instance.
It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on, but this is a real live photo of Sanders, with both feet planted on the ground, grabbing a rebound with the Bucks down 17 to the Celtics last April. He literally waited for the ball to fall into his hand. This wasn’t every rebound for Sanders last season, but it was a thing that happened. He didn’t go out of his way to claim rebounds, he allowed teammates and in some cases the opposition to out work him for them. This season has been different.
This photo could represent the vast majority of Sanders rebounds this season. Two hands, high over his head snatching the ball with great authority. Its his and no one else can have it. He’s rebounding with a confidence and edge that he hadn’t previously displayed. Scott Skiles noted recently that Sanders pretty much decides by himself if he’s going to have a good game.
“It’s pretty much up to Larry whether he plays well or not,” Skiles said. “He’s one of those rare guys because of his length and athleticism. All he has to do is play with a lot of energy, he’s going to have a pretty good game, provided he doesn’t get into foul trouble.”
That really comes through on his rebounding.
Another factor in both his success overall and on the glass? Sanders is fouling a little bit less, which gives him an opportunity to grab some rebounds on misses he forces around the rim and to stay in the game. There was one possession against the Nets Wednesday where Brook Lopez attacked Sanders right around the hoop.
But Sanders stood his ground, went straight up with his long arms and kept himself from falling prey to a silly foul. He was able to force a miss, as he often is, and grab it right off the rim. He’s great at making life tough at the rim for most players and, so long as he isn’t giving them a free pass to the free throw line, that makes it easy for him to grab rebounds in those situations.
This new Larry Sanders isn’t all that different than the old Larry Sanders. He’s just more refined, stays on the court more and does everything better. He’s tied for the league lead with three blocks per game and leads all players with a defensive rating of 93. It’s almost like the Bucks were able to trade Andrew Bogut, but keep his spirit and transfer it to Sanders.
Let’s just hope Bogut didn’t leave him the injuries too.