Larry Sanders is starting tonight against the Spurs in place of rookie John Henson.
Sanders has been the Bucks’ best player over the course of the season. He has blocked nearly 10% of opponents’ shots when he has been on the court this season. As a defensive statistic, blocks cannot even begin to measure his overall impact on keeping opponents from scoring. Opponents are scoring 91.8 points per 100 possessions with Sanders on the course; without him, teams have racked up 104.7 points per 100 possessions. Sanders makes a huge difference when he plays.
While the change represents yet another tweak to the starting lineup, this one stands to add stability. Unlike the pairing of Henson and Ekpe Udoh up front, Sanders and Udoh have been working together — and quite well at that — for some time now.
Sanders has averaged a hearty 12.6 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 4.7 blocks per 36 minutes of playing time this season, a.k.a, starters’ minutes. Those are all-star center level numbers. (You know, if center still existed on the NBA All-Star ballot.)
But he also averages 6.1 fouls per 36 minutes — and six fouls equals a disqualification. Sanders has shown tremendous poise in the last three games, blocking 23 shots while only picking up six combined fouls. That type of restraint has to be what Skiles seeks with the change.
Can he do it against starters? Sanders has already shown that he can. Skiles has kept Sanders in the lineup in most fourth quarters this season. But staying out of foul trouble involves facing those same players in the first quarter and not picking up fouls.
If Sanders can do it, Skiles made the right move.