The spindly big man was one of the best shot-blockers in 2012-13, and at 24 years old has many good years ahead of him. At the same time, Sanders hadn't showed that he was about to earn $11 million per year in his two prior NBA seasons. Does he deserve his new contract?
The numbers to back it up
Undoubtedly, teams will shell out for rim-protecting big men. The 6'11, 235-pound Sanders is just that.
He averaged 2.8 blocks per game in 2012-13, good enough for second in the league behind the Oklahoma City Thunder's Serge Ibaka. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Sanders was also second in the NBA to JaVale McGee in block percentage, sending away 7.6 percent of opponent two-point shot attempts while he was on the floor. He was third in the league among starting centers by allowing just 0.76 points per possession, which trails only Marc Gasol and Kendrick Perkins, according to MySynergySports. Sanders was also among some of the best defenders in the NBA in terms of on-court defensive rating (98.8 points per 100 possessions) versus off-court (105.6 points per 100 possessions) defensive rating. Finally, a study presented at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference by Kirk Goldsberry found that Sanders held opponents to the lowest shooting percentage on attempts inside of five feet in the league.
And despite being on the thin side, Sanders was a decent enough rebounder, snaring 18.6 percent of the Bucks' available rebounds, good for ninth in the league.
If judged on his defense alone, Sanders is easily worthy of his new deal.
Staying on the court
Before last season, Sanders never averaged more than 14.5 minutes per game, and much of it had to do with foul trouble. In 2011-12, Sanders played only a third of the minutes he did this past season because he fouled at a rate of 7.4 fouls per 36 minutes, but that was nearly cut in half to 4.3 fouls per 36 minutes in 2012-13. That is still a rate high enough to keep Sanders' minutes below 30 minutes per game, and it could use more improving.
Back issues and other minor injuries also forced Sanders from several games last season. His ankle sprain during Team USA's minicamp this offseason also didn't help him shed the injury-prone label. None of the injuries, however, were considered anything too serious.
Sanders averaged 9.8 points per game last season and he failed to shoot above 30 percent once he stepped out of dunking range, according to HoopData.com. Does that mean he's an offensive liability? Not necessarily.
In the pick-and-roll, Sanders cuts hard to the paint and has the athleticism to either finish or draw attention -- though his free throw shooting (62 percent) is a major problem for a player who could find contact more often. Note how many times Sanders' roll to the rim opened up shots for Ersan Ilyasova in this video.
So long as Sanders plays the center position with frontcourt shooters like Ilyasova drifting out to the three-point line, he has value offensively. Like Sanders' recent improvements in limiting foul trouble, his shooting percentages have improved.
That was helped by the Bucks fitting him into a defined role within the offense this past year rather than using him as a utility big man. Sanders shot below 46 percent in each of his first two seasons, but that improved to a respectable 51 percent in 2012-13.
So what about the salary?
Again, the big-man market runs pricey. The three-year, $25 million contract Omer Asik signed last summer represents the low end of any significant shot-blockers. Andrew Bogut and most recently, Nikola Pekovic, fall into the high range with their current five-year, $60 million deals, while Roy Hibbert (four years, $58 million) and Marc Gasol (four years, $57 million) also represent two players at the top of the center world.
Here's how Sanders' contract looks next to a select group of similar shot-blocking big men:
|Age at signing||Length||Total value|
|DeAndre Jordan||23||4 years||$43 million|
|JaVale McGee||24||4 years||$44 million|
|Larry Sanders||24||4 years||$44 million|
|Serge Ibaka||23||4 years||$48 million|
|Tyson Chandler||29||4 years||$57 million|
|Joakim Noah||25||5 years||$60 million|
|Nikola Pekovic||27||5 years||$60 million|
Overall, Sanders' age and defensive capabilities line up with the league's contract trend. Considering he might have been lost to another team in restricted free agency had Milwaukee not extended him this summer, the Bucks' decision to sign him to a four-year, $44 million extension is a solid move even considering his short run of success thus far and offensive limitations.