Jake's Take: Checking in on the Rook,
Jake LeRoy [@JakesTake34]
Bucks vs Hawks
The midway point of the NBA season has come and gone so it’s about that time to check on the development of Larry Sanders, Milwaukee’s raw but promising rookie. Sanders’ minutes have been inconsistent this season, vacillating between plentiful when his frontcourt cohorts are injured and fleeting when those same cohorts are healthy. Thirty games at 14.5 minutes per should be enough to provide a slight glimpse into how his rookie campaign is progressing, though.
Sanders is shooting only 57.4 percent at the rim this year, nearly seven percent less than the league average among centers. He’s had to work hard to get those baskets, though, as he hasn’t been the beneficiary of many easy buckets off good finds from teammates. Still, he needs to get better at finishing from close range, a skill that will likely improve as he continues to put on some much-needed weight.
Nobody expected much perimeter offense from Sanders this year, but that has been where most of his points have come from. He’s only shooting 30 percent on shots from 10 feet and out, but it’s plain to see that he has a nice outside touch that will only continue to soften over time. Sanders has a nice pick-and-pop jumper out to 18 feet and has an occasionally feathery soft turnaround jumper from the post.
No rookie has blocked shots better than Sanders this season. He is first among rookies with 1.4 blocks per game, a number that balloons to 4.5 per 40 minutes of action. That average places him second in the entire NBA, trailing only the immortal Darko Milicic. Sanders’ insane length and uncanny timing coming from the weak side will continue to make him a menace to all penetrators.
Sanders’ perimeter defense hasn’t been as strong as his interior defense. He has a tendency to fall for pump fakes on the perimeter, which was evident when Chicago’s Kurt Thomas fooled him on multiple occasions Monday night. Sanders has shown improvement in pick-and-roll situations, but some uncertainty on what to do is still evident.
Rebounding is the facet of Sanders’ game that could use the most improvement. He’s only 22nd among rookies with 10.2 rebounds per 40 minutes, trailing shorter and less athletic players like Mustafa Shakur, Luke Harangody and Devin Ebanks. Sanders certainly has the length and athleticism to become a gifted rebounder, but more weight needs to be added to his slight frame to make that potential a reality. The opposition is too often pushing him out of position underneath the hoop.
There’s not a player on the Bucks roster that more consistently brings a high level of energy. He’s a lanky bundle full of liveliness, routinely keeping balls alive on the offensive glass and beating the opposition down the court. His gazelle-like pace would be much more valuable if Milwaukee pushed the ball more.
Sanders has made some glaring improvements in his game since the season opener. He’ll still miss the occasional assignment or put up a jumper that leaves you shaking your head, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that he’s taking sizeable steps in the right direction. When given significant minutes, Sanders has performed quite well. In the games that he’s played at least 15 minutes, Sanders is averaging 7.9 points, 5.5 boards and 2.5 blocks on 47 percent shooting. I think that’s pretty solid for someone who was considered a project coming into the season.
- I was a little surprised when Josh Smith opened up on CDR tonight. Smith is definitely the superior defender when compared to teammate Joe Johnson, so it’s not a stretch to think he’d guard the opponent’s best wing. Based on Corey Maggette’s well-built reputation as a scoring dynamo, I would assume that Smith would be guarding him. Instead it was CDR, which leads me to believe the Hawks coaching staff sees CDR as the more dangerous offensive weapon. An interesting, yet provocative notion.
- Jamal Crawford’s NBA record for 4-point plays is one of the league’s more intriguing records. To me, at least. It’s a not a significant record by any means and it certainly won’t earn him a bust in the Hall of Fame, but it might be worthy of a homemade plaque of some sort. Crawford has completed 31 4-point plays in his career, which really is pretty amazing. Most players don’t even get fouled 31 times on three-point attempts in their entire career, let alone making 31 trifectas while being fouled. According to this report, Crawford credits his unpredictability as the driving force behind the record. I credit his acting skills.
- Sanders enjoyed a brief two-minute stretch in the second quarter that showed what he’s capable of. The stretch started with a nice block of Smith followed by the rebound. On the ensuing possession, Sanders knocked in a 19-footer with only a slight tickle of the twine. He pulled down another board on Atlanta’s next possession and banked home a leaner from the free-throw line on offense. Sanders finished off the stretch with yet another board. All told, Sanders tallied four points, three boards and a block in less than 120 seconds. Extrapolated over an entire game, that’s 96 points, 72 rebounds and 24 blocks. Totally realistic.
- Sometimes I wonder if Ersan Ilyasova can make a jumper without pump faking or jab stepping beforehand. I have nothing even close to resembling official stats, but it seems like his percentage goes up dramatically if he precedes his shots with a fake of some sort. Catching in rhythm? Just not doing it. Catching it, faking baseline, and rising for a jumper? Money in the bank.
- Keyon Dooling tossed a soft alley-oop toward the rim about midway through the third quarter. Bogut went up to complete oop, and while he misfired, made me yearn for more Bogut alley-oops. Bogut doesn’t get enough credit for athleticism. I’ve witnessed numerous displays of at-the-rim athleticism from him, but not nearly enough. I need more pick-and-rolls in which Bogut rolls hard to the hoop and receives a lob. This needs to happen.
- Garrett Temple isn’t messing around. The man wants a full-time gig and he’s going to do everything he can to get it. Temple has shown no hesitation on offense, shooting when open and finding Sanders on a nice pick-and-roll early in the fourth quarter. He’s mixed in some solid perimeter defense on Johnson and Crawford — sometimes on the same possession — to show off the complete package.
Closing It Out
How ‘bout them Bucks?! A team that perpetually struggles in the fourth quarter blew the doors off the Bradley Center doors in the final stanza. Milwaukee entered the fourth quarter down 11 and seemingly on its way to another disappointing loss. But then something strange happened. The Bucks opened the quarter on a 22-3 run to take an eight-point lead and never looked back, outscoring the Hawks 34-15 in the quarter.
The fourth quarter blowout came courtesy of two unlikely sources. Carlos Delfino connected on three trifectas in the quarter, finishing the night with a well-rounded stat line of 15 points, five rebounds and four assists. Temple acted as Delfino’s wingman with two three-pointers of his own to finish the quarter with six points, two assists and two boards and the game with eight points, three assists and three boards. Maggette rounded the Three Musketeers of Milwaukee wings with an efficient 22 points in 26 foul-plagued minutes.
The Bucks bench deserves most of the credit for tonight’s win. Delfino, Temple, Sanders, Earl Boykins and The Prince actually outscored the starters 53-45 led by Boykins’ 20 point outing. Make no mistake about it, though, it was a team-wide effort. Milwaukee tallied 22 assists on its 35 buckets and turned the ball over just seven times. No player posted more than five assisted, signifying ball movement that was contagious across the roster.
A special thanks should be sent out to Josh Smith. The guy-who-should-never-shoot-jumpers fell in love with his jumper and the Bucks couldn’t be happier. Smith finished the night 6-of-20 from the floor, including a 1-for-5 showing from beyond the arc. Hey, if Smith can’t find anything else to do in Milwaukee, he’s more than welcome to come back to the Bradley Center and throw up some more bricks.
I’m not going to lie, that was fun. I really enjoyed that win. I think it’d be really neat if it happened more. With cellar-dwellers Toronto and New Jersey coming up this weekend, it’s entirely possible a few more wins could be on the horizon.
Note: These are the views of the 6th Fan Blogger. Thoughts and opinions expressed in this articles are not necessarily the views of the Milwaukee Bucks.