There have been rumors of Larry Sanders returning to the NBA for a few seasons now, they have finally come true with the announced signing of Sanders to the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Although Sanders has been out of the league since 2014-2015 season and has not played more than 27 games in a season since 2012-2013 this move is still a bigger move than it appears.
Sanders is hardly the first NBA big man to make a return to the NBA after a long departure, but here is why I think it can work out for Sanders and the Cavs:
- Sanders skill set
Sanders was never known as a true post scorer or shooter- what he did well in the past was protect the rim, dunk the balls he needs to, and be versatile on defense. Not everybody is capable of doing this, and with Andrew Bogut breaking his leg last week and Kevin Love still out the timing is right for Sanders to contribute.
- Playing with LeBron
The Cavs probably won’t give Sanders a single touch in a real game situation, they have more than a few other guys that can create with the ball in their hands…You might have heard of them. Sanders role for the Cavs will likely be to set a ball screen for LeBron or Kyrie, run the floor, protect the rim, and be a good pick & roll defender for a few minutes.
- Shooters around him
Sander was not a great passer when he was in the league (0.6 assists per game) for his career- so why does it matter if shooters are around him? Well, it’s actually one of the few reasons he will be able to contribute anything offensively. When he sets a ball screen for LeBron the help side defender will have to choose between a Sanders alley-oop dunk, or a Kyle Korver/JR Smith/Kevin Love/Richard Jefferson three pointer. This type of center is more important than the box score will show, Sanders might not score much but there is more to impacting a game than that especially with LeBron running the show.
This move can work better than most big men coming back to the league, the skill set Sanders brings is probably the simplest (still easier said than done) to implement in basketball. Sanders is only 28 years old, and after not playing for the last few years I am sure that there is plenty of bounce left in his legs. His job is going to come down to if he can last 5-10 minutes on the floor and if he can still jump (again, easier said than done at the NBA level).
- NBA Championship on the line
Competing for an NBA championship would probably inspire your neighbor enough to help him last 5 minutes on an NBA floor. Sanders has had plenty of time to get as close to game shape as he can and got to skip the wear and tear of the regular season. This is a GREAT opportunity for Sanders, there is a reason LeBron has spoken about wanting Sanders in recent interviews.
Sanders and the Cavs have found a great match here, expect Sanders to be a poor man’s version of Tristian Thompson for a couple of minutes a game as the Cavs make their championship run.