It’s at this point in the prospectus that we’ll start to see some redundancies, both in the prospects themselves but in what these prospects might bring to the Thunder that is already there but maybe just not in the way or package that the Thunder need.
For example, you could argue that the next two prospects to come are more or less Ibaka clones. And if you said that, I would not argue at all. The difference though is in play style and skill-set more than physical stature. And by no means do I want this to come across like these players would replace Ibaka in any way. They would ONLY be taken if the Thunder brass thought they could complement what was already on the team for the future, i.e. Ibaka and Green in the paint (I’d add Collison off the bench but Krstic and Collison have contracts ending soon so I’m not going to presume to say that I know what the Thunder front office will do with them).
But we still come back to the Thunder’s need of a low post scoring threat, a defensive rebounding fiend and a rim protecting shot-blocker (who combined with Ibaka would make for quite a nice “think twice before attacking the rim” tandem, no?).
Well, how’s about two out of the three with a potential in two-to-three years for all three?
#3 – Larry Sanders – 6’10, 220 – PF/C – VCU
And somewhere Eric Maynor rejoices.
This was a hard pick for me personally because there are more skilled and immediately better players available here than Sanders. Also, Sanders is only 220 lbs and even though he clearly has the body type to be able to add on 20 lbs in the next few years without seeing any adverse affects to his game so he could play center in the NBA like Ben Wallace did (calm down people, just a physical comparison, not a comparison about who Sanders will be at the next level–though Sander’s style of play would probably best resemble a much lesser, lesser Ben Wallace), we’re still talking about someone who is physically too light to handle the post in the NBA right away. Again, Sanders has the wide shoulders and broad build to add weight, but being able to add it and then doing so are two totally different things.
6’10 and can play center? Sure, happens all the time. Dwight Howard is 6’10 in shoes. Deandre Jordan is 6’11. And Al Horford is 6’9. Sanders would absolutely have to add weight, but the fact that he A) Has an almost absurd 7’6 wingspan and B) Would immediately be one of the best athletes at the position upon entering the NBA, would easily make his transition to playing center at the next level a more viable option than most.
Is he a perfect fit at center for the Thunder? Definitely not. But at this stage in the draft, he has serious potential there and that’s more than most would have. And don’t read the ”he’d be one of the best athletes at the position entering the NBA” and think it’s just mere hyperbole or is me just over hyping Mr. Sanders. You will struggle to find a 6’10 player in the NBA that has Sanders’ combination of elite explosiveness, eye-opening agility, quick feet and surprising end-to-end speed outside of anyone not named Dwight Howard.
But all that athleticism would mean nothing if he didn’t show signs of developing a nice offensive game despite poor ball handling skills, okay hands, still raw footwork and only slightly above normal touch around the basket. But all of these have shown signs of improvement, and that’s what’s promising. He’s shown flashes of a post-up game and even some go-to paint moves. Most surprising has been the emergence of a 15 foot jump-shot for Sanders, who could then be considered a pick-and-pop threat at the next level. So while he wouldn’t be an immediate assistance as a low post scorer right away, the potential is there in a few years if he can continue to improve and be paired with a legit point guard.
Now onto his strengths: shot-blocking and defensive rebounding. Sanders would IMMEDIATELY help out these two biggest areas of need for the Thunder. Yes, I said it. He would. How can I say that so definitively? Try 4.4 blocks and 7.6 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted. He has great timing, elite athleticism and a genuine desire to swallow the ball whole if it approaches the rim or bounces off of the rim or backboard. To put it bluntly, he is the type of defensive post player who forces opponents to change their game-plan. On the defensive end, he is a game changer.
But with that strength is also his weakness: At the next level, Sanders will get pushed around down low and his still raw skill-set will get him embarrassed on both ends more often than not until he can develop a more fine-tuned fundamentals game. His length and athleticism would surely help ease these troubles, but without adding strength most opponents would simply have to back him down into the post to negate his athleticism and incredible timing.
Also, he’s not going to get you offensive buckets in the paint by himself, he’ll need help. Maybe for his entire career if his offense doesn’t improve like it could. However unlike some bigs, he WILL finish at the rim when given those opportunities (usually with a ferocious dunk). Just ask Maynor.
Best of all, his engine always runs hot. He does not quit and he will not allow others around him to lighten up their intensity or effort. Also, he has progressed while at VCU which should lend some credibility to the notion that he’ll progress further at the next level.
Did I mention that he gave Cole Aldrich all kinds of fits at the skills camp over the summer? ON BOTH ENDS of the court? So as you can see, the potential is there on both offense and defense (though his defense is already really, really good), the problem is only “how much improvement” and” when.”
And for the Thunder, those two might mean that Sanders would be too much of a project to take on despite being an incredibly intriguing talent. After all, what if he could develop…right?
Tune in tomorrow for #4…
J.G. Marking is the author of the inspirational book, “A Voice Is Calling.” He’s currently working on his first fiction novel, “The Gift of the Greenstone.”