Is Larry Sanders a Bounce-Back Candidate Next Year?
To completely understate it, Larry Sanders had a tough 2013-2014 season. In case you forgot the timeline, here's what happened.
After signing a four-year contract with the Bucks in August, Sanders got off to a slow start with a bad Milwaukee team. Just a month in, he was arrested for a nightclub incident, where he also happened to tear a ligament in his thumb. After missing 25 games, he made it back onto the court only to shortly thereafter fracture his right orbital bone, putting him out for the rest of the season.
It was really the perfect storm of bad NBA issues. He signed a multi-million dollar deal at just 24 years of age and then played on a terrible team just a year removed from people dubbing him the franchise cornerstone. He couldn't stay healthy, either. Expectations, and probably maturity, were a little off the mark.
So, it's fairly safe to say that 2014-2015 can't possibly go as bad as this past year, on or off the court.
And on the court, it may not have been quite as bad as our eyes told us. Take a look at how the Bucks performed last year with him on and off court (data courtesy of nbawowy.com).
PPP = point per possession
PPS = point per shot
TS% = true shooting percentage
OPPP = opponent's point per possession
OTS% = opponent's true shooting percentage
|Larry Sanders ON||0.99||0.97||48.4%||1.09||54.4%|
|Larry Sanders OFF||1.04||1.04||52.1%||1.13||56.1%|
Let's start on the offensive end. The Bucks weren't very good with or without Sanders, but it definitely wasn't pretty with him. As a team, the Bucks ranked 25th in the league in offensive efficiency, posting an ORtg of 103.0 (league average was 106.7).
In the 2012-2013 season, Sanders was an above-average offensive player. In fact, he scored nine points per 100 possessions more that season than he did last year. His shooting splits took a major hit last year as well - the prior year he had a true shooting percentage of 52.3% in almost four times as many minutes.
And the minutes are probably the reason for this season-to-season downtrend. Sanders was only on the floor for 584 minutes last year. Rhythm and chemistry are important to offenses, and Sanders didn't have time to develop either. Throw that in with two injuries and it's no wonder that he struggled on the offensive end. Not many players wouldn't have in that situation.
This is the area that Sanders projected as an elite player, and last year didn't dissuade that. Despite all the issues, the Bucks were still much better defensively with Sanders on the floor.
According to 82games.com, the two best defensive lineups (by far, actually) both featured Sanders as the anchor. Some more good news for Bucks fans - those two lineups also included young wing Giannis Antetokounmpo.
He was still their best defensive big by quite a bit. The Knight, Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Ilyasova, and Henson lineup hemorrhaged points last year. Simply substituting Sanders for Henson didn't make the Bucks all-world, but they did allow a whopping 15 points per 100 possessions less.
As a team, the Bucks were the worst defensive team in the league, allowing 111.8 points per 100 possessions. As you can see in the table above, when Sanders was on the floor, they were very close to an average defensive squad. As Giannis develops on the perimeter, that should be a duo that could be elite defensively in a couple of years.
It's surprising that another NBA team didn't recognize Sanders' unfortunate situation and elect to buy low on him in a trade last season. Despite the rough year, Sanders still looks like he can be a great defensive center and be a nice building block to the future of the Bucks.
They should be a much improved team next year due to a hopeful rejuvenation of Sanders, continued development of Antetokounmpo, and the arrival of the second overall draft pick, Jabari Parker. Things are looking up in Milwaukee.