Larry Sanders has played all of three games under new Bucks head coach Larry Drew, and already has found issue with the logic of Drew's rotation. After struggling through a scant 17.3 minutes per game to start the season, Sanders reflected on his notable absence in fourth quarters and his inability to establish an effective playing rhythm to Steve Aschburner of NBA.com:
“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 NBA.com 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.”
To clarify: Sanders hasn't merely played abbreviated minutes to close out games, but has yet to play a single fourth-quarter minute this season. His frustration is understandable; in a general sense, Sanders doesn't have a justifiable threat to his playing time on the roster. He's far and away the best of Milwaukee's center options, though thus far he's been passed over for Zaza Pachulia (who, to be fair, has played terrific basketball) and Khris Middleton.
It might be tempting to place blame on Drew, who notoriously underplayed Al Horford in Atlanta when sniffing even the vaguest hint of foul trouble. In this case, though, it's difficult to argue that Sanders has played well enough to warrant a bigger cut of playing time. His defense has been effective in spots, but plagued by the kind of foul trouble that marginalized Sanders early in his career. Through three games he's averaged a crippling 6.2 fouls per 36 minutes -- a mark that would inherently cut back on his minutes. Beyond that, Sanders has made just four field goals in 16 tries (three of which were dunks), as he's settled for contested jumpers, wild flings toward the rim, and ill-fated post-up tries. None of it has worked, and with Sanders averaging a mere 7.6 rebounds per 36 minutes (relative to 12.5 per 36 last season), there isn't much compelling reason to leave him on the floor. Odd as it is, Pachulia has been demonstratively better. All of which goes to make Sanders' argument -- which is fundamentally one of causality -- all the more interesting. He's hardly the first to argue that he needs specific minutes in order to be most effective, though it's interesting that Sanders would invoke his own inexperience as a factor relevant to his game-to-game performance. That momentum (or lack thereof, in this case) is real. But given that he's struggled from minute one of this season, the problem hardly seems to be Sanders' inability to build on his performance from game to game. He's starting at a disadvantage by giving fouls and giving away rebounds, and should ultimately play more when his work on the court justifies it. As Drew told Sanders himself: “...there’s no need to press. Just go out there and play.”