Can Larry Sanders Make an Impact for the Cavaliers?
It's not everyday a team can pick up an elite rim protector off waivers, but that is exactly what happened when Andrew Bogut was signed by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The belief was that Bogut would be one of the best defensive centers LeBron James has ever played with in his career -- until Bogut broke his leg 58 seconds into his Cavaliers debut, leaving Cleveland seeking a replacement.
Sanders' struggles on and off the court have been well-documented and often scrutinized. While playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, he experienced a myriad of injuries, suspensions for marijuana violations and some off-court incidents involving police.
After struggling with depression and bouts with anxiety, which he detailed in The Players' Tribune, he walked away from the Bucks, the team that drafted him with the 15th overall pick in the 2010 draft. The move made people scratch their head, wondering how someone could just leave in the midst of a four-year $44-million deal.
Could Be Exactly What Cleveland Needs
Sanders hasn't played since the 2014-15 season, and he hasn't played more than 30 games in a season since the 2012-12 campaign. So he's going to have some rust.
Accordingly, NBA.com's David Aldridge reported Cleveland plans to ease Sanders back into action by having him practice with the Cavaliers but play games in the D-League with the hopes of having him ready for the postseason.
The 28-year-old Sanders spent his first five years with the Bucks, posting career averages of 6.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. Sanders experienced his best professional season in 2012-13, when he averaged 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks (all career highs).
For his career, Sanders blocks 7.1% of two-point field goals when he's on the court. Let's add some context -- Dwight Howard (three-time Defensive Player of the Year) has not had a single season in which his his block percentage was higher than 6.0%. Sanders was well on his way to being one of the best defensive centers in the league.
Cleveland is 22nd in defensive efficiency this season. Since their potent offense is so efficient and versatile, it's hard for teams to fully prepare to face the Cavs in the regular season, when they are multiple games per week. But in the playoffs, teams can better game plan for opponents, which places an increased importance on defense.
In the last 40 years, only three teams which ranked outside the top-10 in defensive efficiency have won the NBA title -- remember, the Cavs are currently 22nd. The silver lining for Cleveland is that each of the three teams to buck the trend were defending champions.
Defending Their Crown
While there is sure to be an adjustment period for Sanders, who skipped out on the entire 2015-2016 campaign, he has to be excited to join a contending team, one our models give a 9.1% chance to win it all. It'll take some time -- Sanders only saw two minutes Tuesday night in his debut before getting sent down to the D-League -- but this could prove to be a meaningful signing.
Still, there is no possible way to know which Sanders the Cavaliers will get. Will it be the guy who left the league because he was unhappy? Or will the Cavs get the player the Bucks signed to an extension after he averaged nearly three blocks per season and was one of the most athletically gifted centers in the league?
If Sanders can round into form and make a significant impact, becoming a player near the caliber he was when he walked away, the Cavaliers will get a rotational bench guy they desperately need to keep the title in Cleveland.