July 18, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Washington Wizards forward Jeff Brooks (40) and Milwaukee Bucks forward Larry Sanders (8) look for the rebound during the first half of the game at Cox Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Discovering Larry Sanders

July 18, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Washington Wizards forward Jeff Brooks (40) tries to block a shot by Milwaukee Bucks forward Larry Sanders (8) during the first half of the game at Cox Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

A little less than six months ago I saw a man that I was way too familiar with. He had extreme potential but still was wet behind the ears despite being one of the oldest players on the court. He hung around the guards even though he’s 6’11. He fouled out of a Vegas Summer League game where the foul limit was ten.

A little less than six months ago I watched Larry Sanders and wanted to send him to the yard like a rusty Oldsmobile because there was a new shiny Jaguar in the garage: John Henson, a player who was ready to put this Bucks team into drive. But that was six months ago and since that point, Larry Sanders has gone from junky Olds to racy import.

That strange 180-degree turn for Larry Sanders started November 3rd at the BMO Harris Bradley Center when the Bucks took on Cleveland. Mike Dunleavy dominated the game with six three pointers and Brandon Jennings hit the game-winning buzzer beater, but I noticed a different version of the enigmatic Larry Sanders. While still fouling out in the typical Sanders fashion, I still noticed that there was a different feel to his overall game. He was still energetic and crazy but he harnessed that energy to work around the rim and get those points in the post rather than shooting outside of the paint. He worked like a force on the defensive side which was great especially against Anderson Varejao who unbeknownst to anybody was actually starting up an All-Star caliber season.

Simply put, though, he just played like a high-impact player who energizes the other four players on the court but also the blue-collar fans in attendance in Milwaukee. It’s extremely cliche to say, but Larry has a hard-hat wearing and lunch-pail carrying mentality about him that’s quickly making him Milwaukee’s favorite son even though he was born and raised in the sunshine state of Florida.

While he’s still playing with that out of control pit-bull mentality while averaging 3.8 fouls per game, he’s using that to become the best shot blocker in Bucks history since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was lacing up his sneakers at the Milwaukee Arena. As of December 23rd, Larry is the leader in blocks per game with 3.1 while also posting a 9.1% blocking percentage, best in the NBA.

Those numbers and advanced statistics may look impressive but also look at the fact that he’s putting up those numbers against some of the better teams and front-courts in the league. For example in his historic game against the Timberwolves where blocked ten shots, he had an amazing sequence where he swatted four shots in a span of eight seconds against Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love. His two best performances this season have been against the struggling Boston Celtics. In two games, he has combined for a ridiculous 36 rebounds, 35 points and seven blocks.

No matter what he does for the Bucks in the next four months of the season, I hope Larry Sanders stays with this team for the long run. Yes, I buried him in August when I talked about the power forward situation. But he’s not only put up those big numbers that I talked about earlier, he’s also the lightning rod that sparks up this team when he’s on the court. Brandon Jennings might make the clutch three pointers and Monta Ellis will do whatever Monta Ellis does on a given night but you can be sure that Sanders will be the one to dunk on Kevin Garnett or block a shot in the face of Anderson Varejao.

I know this is going to sound extremely ridiculous but Larry Sanders will most likely be the cornerstone of this team if and when Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis take their talents to other teams during the upcoming offseason. While I do hope Hammond does make a move to get another impact player but there’s still a possibility that Larry Sanders could be the leader of this team when the 2013-14 season tips off.

Does that scare me? Absolutely. It’s fitting. There’s always a little bit of fear in the pit of my heart every time Larry Sanders steps on the court.

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