Sanders Frustrated By Short Minutes

VIDEO: Larry Sanders might need more quality minutes for more quality work


MILWAUKEE – It is pro sports’ chicken-or-egg quandary, setting up an eternal conflict between coaches and athletes: Does a player play more when he plays better, or does the player play better when he plays more?

Milwaukee center Larry Sanders is solidly in the camp of the latter. Bucks coach Larry Drew? Leaning more toward the former right now.

Sanders – the 6-foot-11 defensive savant whose breakthrough 2012-13 season included strong support for the Defensive Player (seventh) and Most Improved (third) awards, as well as a four-year, $44 million extension over the summer – is one frustrated shot-swatter and rebounder at the moment.

Through Milwaukee’s first three games, his production is down significantly: 2.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 17.3 minutes, compared to last season’s 9.8, 9.5, 2.8 and 27.3. After taking an average of 8.5 shots and making about half (50.6) in 2012-13, he has shot 4-for-16 so far, in a mixed bag of jump hooks, short jumpers and layups.

Sanders has been the opposite of smooth, offensively, looking at times like he’s wrestling a lawn chair. And in his view, he hasn’t broken enough of a sweat to do much better. He played 21:37 in the Bucks’ 97-90 loss to Toronto Saturday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, contributing four points, four boards and one block.

“I feel like I’m capable of being in the game at the end and helping my team win, coming up with blocks and rebounds,” Sanders told before exiting the locker room swiftly. “I haven’t been able to get my rhythm out there. I understand foul trouble situations, but tonight I wasn’t in foul trouble.

“Last year I finished so many games. I feel like that’s when I lock in the most. But I haven’t been able to get in the game to finish. That carries over to the next game. When you sit the last three quarters of each game, I can’t have no carryover. And it’s hard for me. I’m still a young player. It’s only my eighth year playing basketball.”

Sanders, 24, has played only 15 of his 52 minutes so far in the second half. He logged 3:12 at New York Wednesday, 5:34 at Boston Friday and 6:18 against the Raptors after the break. But then, the Bucks outscored the Knicks 52-34 after halftime and the Celtics 58-35. They had a 39-34 edge on the Raptors through 18 minutes of the second half Saturday before slipping back to lose the game by seven (and the half, 46-44).

Drew’s lineup in the fourth quarter Saturday primarly was O.J. Mayo and rookie point Nate Wolters in the backcourt, Khris Middleton, John Henson and 18-year-old project Giannis Antetokounmpo up front. That group, over the first 6:07 of the quarter, erased Toronto’s 12-point lead, getting the Bucks even at 85-85.

Drew subbed in Caron Butler for Middleton, who had missed a pair of free throws and a couple layups, over the final 3:04. Milwaukee got no closer than three.

“Throughout the game,” Drew said, “I just didn’t feel like we put a burst together, where we were really moving and flying around. So I elected to go smaller in the fourth quarter, move Khris to the four and Giannis to the three, and it got us going. At that point, I was really going to ride that group.”

Said Sanders: “That makes sense. But it’s not that group – Caron goes in. It’s about trust. Who you trust down the stretch, that’s who you’re going to play.”

If this is a trust issue, it may well be a temporary, evolving one. Drew has on his hands a roster that’s not just new to him but new to each other. He’s searching for combinations, with even his starting lineup fluid for now. His top two point-guard options – Brandon Knight (right hamstring strain) and Luke Ridnour (back spasms) – have been out, which messes with everyone’s rhythm.

Also, Drew has Zaza Pachulia as an option at center, a familiar face from the coach’s three seasons in Atlanta. Pachulia has averaged 13.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 26.0 minutes – though it’s a small sample size and the burly veteran didn’t play in the fourth quarter Saturday, either.

Drew suggested some of Sanders’ struggle on offense and frustration overall stems from adjusting to his third coach (after Scott Skiles and interim Jim Boylan) in 10 months. “It’s him still trying to learn this system and trying to learn his teammates,” Drew said. “He had some point-blank shots right around the basket – he just couldn’t get ’em to drop.

“I thought that Larry played with some energy though. That’s the thing that, in my conversations with him, I want him to bring on a nightly basis. The other stuff will fall into place.”

Henson – the second-year forward who has had to scrape for his own minutes amid the newness, despite his strong summer in Las Vegas – said he has tried to calm Sanders, whose emotions sometimes outstrip his maturity.

“I talk to Larry, because he’s one of my best friends on the team,” Henson said late Saturday. “I told him, ‘You’re going to close 90 percent of our games.’ He’s just frustrated right now.”

Henson thinks Sanders might be pressing to show the world he’s worth the fat contract extension he received in the offseason. Sanders doesn’t feel that way, though. And Drew said, even if he did, he shouldn’t.

“Yeah, I’ve had that conversation,” the coach said. “There’s no need to press now. He’s in a good position. I know a lot of guys who get in that position of not knowing what their future holds, they do have a tendency to press. But for him, nah, there’s no need to press. Just go out there and play.”

And there’s the rub. Sanders puts the emphasis in that sentence on “go out there.” Drew, at the moment, is focused on the “play.”

This isn’t so much Larry vs. Larry as it is one Larry seeing things differently from the other Larry while serving separate agendas. One man’s chicken to the other man’s egg, with 79 games to go.


  1. Tom says:

    Why is sanders not playing. Nobody wants ZAZA on the floor get him out of there!!!!!

    I’ll start the death threats to Larry Drew if it comes to that.

  2. tonyc920 says:

    WOW, 3 games into the season and the experts have the Bucks tanking. Cmon Man ?? Let’s see, 4 returning players, 11 new players, new head coach and staff. I never said the first 20 games would look pretty, I expect there will be more low spots than high until January. They need to find combinations and let them gel as a unit. Sanders should shut his mouth, period !!! If he wants to be disruptive, I’m sure the Bucks would get a lot of phone calls if they put feelers out there. There’s no “I” in team.

  3. jseed says:

    I am so happy we drafted Wolters and his playing time will make the difference as our season progresses. Sure, we may have a 500 team, but I am happy to watch their growitn pains. Coach trying to find the right combinations, both starting and coming off the bench. Hold your critque until mid season, when the players should have become a team. Go BUCKS.

  4. Eli says:

    Tanking? I wish the Bucks would tank but they won’t, Their first and second string PG’s are injured so they look dis-jointed. As far as Sanders is concerned, he was in major foul trouble in game 1 and the Bucks had a large deficit in the Boston game, so it’s too early to gripe about minutes. Sanders just has to chill out and settle down. I think he is pressing to prove he deserves his big contract just like Illyasova did at the beginning of last year. Sanders is a good guy and a hard worker, with lots of talent. He he will return to form.

  5. X says:

    Larry Drew is wrong on this. He’s looking for an offense from a defensive player. Sanders is still young. His offensive arsenal will come along the way.

  6. sanders should be getting minutes!

  7. Andrew Bogut says:

    Ha Ha Another tragic Bucks story.

  8. Eaham says:

    Jerry Sloan anyone ?

  9. Dave says:

    hell yeah we tanking…. Glenn Robinson Jr ready for Milwaukee…. This Bucks team is Giannis, Wolters, Sanders and Lil Big Dog…. Spread the Mayo what what. Bucks catching up to the Big boys i mean big markets

    • justsayin says:

      For some reason hearing about G Rob makes me think of Glen Rice and Derrick Coleman – I guess bc were Eastern Con forwards that could fill it up back in the day.

  10. bulls fan says:

    sanders has been an underrated player since he joined the league….if he works on shooting a little, and brings up the intensity…he will be a great player to have in a starting lineup

  11. Gillsy says:

    BY the sounds of it he is out of favour with the coach and his new direction. Don’t be surprised if he gets traded.

  12. John says:

    Why talk about Andrew wiggins when he didn’t even finish his college season. You don’t want to have a losing season because there’s a very small chance you will get the 1st pick , nevertheless a top 3 pick! When was the team with the worst record earned a 1st pick??? Maybe not even in the last 10 years????

  13. pwgoodwin says:

    The Bucks may not be good…but they’re not tanking. The owner is known to have a “win and win now” attitude. Unfortunately, Milwaukee is not a huge free agent destination, so that is why you have to throw big money at players like O.J. Mayo. Regardless, this is not a tank job.

  14. UnkleDaddy says:

    Larry Drew is not a coach for a franchise that is basically starting over, when you have a young core you need one of two types of coaches a very young coach they can relate to, or a guy with a presence and a great track record. Like George Karl or Gregg Popovich, now Pop isn’t leaving so… I’m not saying another coach should be fired, I’m just sayin’.

  15. Luciano says:

    First thing, play smart and do it better for the speed comes on its own.Second don’t tense up and be cool and ignore yours and umps mistakes then you’ll be able to see clearer and progress will come!

  16. Luciano says:

    This reminds me of George Brett, baseball great, who said when one is in a slump try easier not harder and you will come back quicker. A very smart player

  17. okc2014 says:

    Milwakee Bucks are tanking!

  18. waltwilliams55 says:

    I will take Sanders for Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette and Jason Thompson.

  19. Dwade says:

    It do look like he is tanking

  20. dylan says:

    HATE this coaching approach- overcome several obstacles that your own team sets in front of you by playing well with no confidence flow or opportunity before you can even focus on overcoming the opponents- magically do well when a coach puts you in the worst situation possible for success to earn a better situation- its punitive for your best players SMH. Wish the best for Larry Sanders and hope positive things can come from this situation but coaches have scarred good players this way so many times before

  21. jake says:

    Dear Sam,

    I dont know how you consider them tanking. They were down by 25 points to the knicks and came all the way back and took the lead against arguably one of the best teams in the league. Then they beat the Celtics and then if it weren’t for some missed free throws we could of beat the Raptors. They were all close games and we have only played 3 so far so I don’t get why you think they are tanking.

  22. Rich says:

    Sanders has issues and needs to address them before he can be what he should be. Poor shooting, poor defensive fundamentals, failure to block out on the boards, technical fouls and ejections, etc. Right now the bucks do play better with him on the bench.

    So friend Larry, look into the mirror to see the problem. It’s in your head and attitude. Meanwhile, coach Drew should have a standing policy; an automatic trip to the bench when Sanders gets a “T” or when he otherwise acts up. I like the guy, really. But improvements in fundamentals and attitude need to happen before he gets the time he wishes. Introspection…

  23. Sam says:

    The Bucks are tanking so hard it has crossed the line into unacceptable. To make moves in the off-season that gets you cap room and young players to develop is one thing, but to lock down decent players with good contracts and then shelve them in hopes of adding Andrew Wiggins is just tacky and bad for business. I hope the league finds a way to create tanking tax or the other GM’s blacklist the Bucks.

    • John says:

      Why would you think the bucks are tanking? They brought in OJ Mayo for a pile of money, why would they do that if they were tanking? They look better this year than last years AND1 fest with a “volume shooting” backcourt. They are just young, and I bet they have a better record than last year, contently hanging around the 8th spot in the East so they get another 15th pick.

    • niemdani says:

      I understand what you’re saying, but that is absolutely not what has happened in Milwaukee. Drew has been playing the guys who have given them the best chance to win, which has happened to be the young players thus far. Ironically, the reason they have been losing is the play of the veterans, who have been digging the double digit deficits that the younger guys have been erasing.