Bucks player profile: Larry Sanders
This is the 14th profile in a 15-part series running Wednesdays and Fridays profiling each Milwaukee Bucks player leading up to the start of the NBA season.
No Milwaukee Bucks player was more visible in the summer of 2013 than Larry Sanders. Fresh off a breakout campaign in which he was one of the best defensive players in the NBA, Sanders was slowly becoming one of the faces of the franchise.
Sanders signed a four-year, $44 million contract extension in late that summer, and the Bucks hoped the former first-round pick had not only turned the corner on the court but also had his personal life in order.
As it turned out, he didn't.
The tone for Sanders' 2013-14 season was set when he suffered a torn right thumb ligament in an altercation at a Milwaukee nightclub just hours after the Bucks' home opener in early November.
2013-14 stats: 7.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 46.9 FG %, 47.3 FT % over 25.4 MPG in 23 games
2014-15 salary: $11,000,000
Last year: After reviewing the nightclub incident, the Milwaukee County district attorney's office determined numerous people, including Sanders, were involved in an altercation at the Apartment 720 club during the early morning hours of Nov. 3.
Police were unable to determine how the altercation started and who initiated it and did not issue criminal charges. The district attorney's office has referred the case back to the Milwaukee Police Department and municipal citations were issued.
The Bucks initially said Sanders injured his thumb during Milwaukee's home opener on Nov. 2, but they eventually admitted the torn thumb ligament was sustained during the altercation. Sanders had surgery on Nov. 11 and didn't return until Dec. 27 when the Bucks were already buried in the standings.
Sanders averaged 7.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 13 games in January, but the brace on his thumb and general rust left his play inconsistent. He hit his groove during a five-game stretch in late January and early February, averaging 13.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game.
Just as he started looking like his old self again, Sanders was hit under the right eye by an inadvertent elbow from Rockets guard James Harden on Feb. 8. The blow fractured Sanders' right orbital bone and ended his season.
Sanders was suspended five games by the NBA in early April for violation of the league's anti-drug program. He later admitted the suspension was for marijuana and went on the record defending his use of the drug. Although he was injured, the NBA allowed Sanders to serve his five-game suspension at the end of the year instead of having it carry over to 2014-15.
This year: There aren't many players around the league with more to prove than Sanders, especially with his contract extension kicking in this season and making him the highest-paid player on the Bucks.
Sanders reported to training camp in a good state of mind and genuinely seems focused on bouncing back from his disastrous campaign. Bucks coach Jason Kidd was pleased with Sanders' first week of training camp and it showed early on in the preseason.
Including a 15-point, 10-rebound effort against Memphis in the preseason opener, Sanders was averaging 10.7 points and 10.0 rebounds in three exhibition contests before he began missing practice with what was called an illness. The Bucks announced last Friday that Sanders underwent a minor medical procedure but would be ready for the regular-season opener Oct. 29.
Assuming Sanders is ready to go for the regular season, he will most likely be Milwaukee's starting center on opening night. The Bucks sorely lacked his ability to protect the rim last season, as Sanders can make up for a lot of defensive mistakes with his length around the basket.
In addition to needing to make an impact on the floor for the Bucks, Sanders must have a season free of off-the-court trouble. Sanders seemed genuinely interested in stepping up as a team leader during training camp, but the Bucks need to see it happen throughout the course of the year.
Sanders will wear protective goggles for the rest of his career to protect the plate that was inserted into his face following the orbital bone fracture last season.
"It's a substantial contract, and when you sign someone to a contract like that you hope you get productivity with that. I don't want to make it sound like it's easy, but I think to a certain extent, just because of the gifts that he was given with his athleticism, his length, his speed, his quickness and the timing that he has to block shots, if he's on the floor, good things are going to happen. He's just got to find a way to get himself on that floor." -- Bucks general manager John Hammond
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