Larry Sanders has become one of the better defensive centers in the NBA, coming out of nowhere just a year after averaging 12.4 minutes per game.
Sanders has made his name known by averaging 7.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.1 blocks in just 24.7 minutes per game. His 16.2 rebounds per 48 minutes ties him for eighth place in the NBA, ahead of the likes of Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler, while also tying for the lead in blocks per game.
This drastic jump in production, specifically in blocks, has drawn comparisons to none other than Serge Ibaka, the fourth-year power forward who led the NBA in blocks per game last season.
So what makes these comparisons realistic? And can Larry Sanders truly play the role of Ibaka for Milwaukee?
The thing that stands out most when it comes to the comparison between Larry Sanders and Serge Ibaka is the blocks.
This season, the two are tied for the leagues lead in blocks at 3.1 per game, with Sanders playing seven minutes fewer per game.
Sanders has always shown the ability to block shots, having averaged 1.5 blocks per game in just 12.4 minutes last season. Meanwhile, it seems to be a skill that took time to develop in Ibaka, who averaged a solid 2.4 blocks in 27 minutes per game two seasons ago before jumping up to 3.7 per game last season.
Their ability to block shots is what naturally draws comparisons between these two players and statistics actually seem to favor Sanders as the better shot blocker so far. It will remain seen, however, how he will play as he continues to get more minutes.
The shooting touch
While Ibaka and Sanders share the ability to swat shots, they differ greatly in their shooting touches.
As most know, Ibaka has become a much more important part of the Oklahoma City offense and is averaging 14.2 points per game on 56.6 percent shooting so far this season.
Meanwhile, Sanders is averaging 7.7 points per game while shooting 52.9 percent from the floor, also making him an efficient offensive option.
The difference between the two, however, is in where they are shooting the ball.
Ibaka has become a prolific jump shooter, shooting 52 percent from midrange while shooting 129 shots from that range. A close second in shots is in the restricted area, where he has shot the ball 107 times.
In contrast, Sanders has proven to be an ineffective from midrange, only shooting 29 percent on 24 shots. Where he scores most of his points and is most effective is in the restricted area where he is shooting 67 percent.
The numbers point to Sanders being a much less versatile offensive weapon than Ibaka. While he can finish in the paint at a consistent rate, he simply cannot shoot well enough to match the offensive game of Ibaka.
The final place that Sanders can truly be compared to Ibaka is on the boards, where the Bucks center actually seems to have an advantage.
So far this season, Sanders is averaging 8.3 rebounds per game while Ibaka averages 8.2. The difference, of course, comes in the fact that he plays seven fewer minutes per game, which makes his rebounding total all the more impressive.
To go further, Sanders' rebounding percentage is at 18.1 percent, much higher than the 14.9 percent that Ibaka is putting up this season.
Finally, Ibaka has proven to be a slightly better offensive rebounder while Sanders has become better on the defensive boards.
It will be interesting to see how Larry Sanders pans out as he continues to play more minutes, but thus far he has proven to be a monster on the boards.
The comparison between Larry Sanders and Serge Ibaka is not a perfect one.
Ibaka can score from different places on the floor while Sanders seems to be stuck within the restricted area. Meanwhile, Sanders appears to already have proven that he is the better rebounder of the two.
Still, it appears that it is entirely possible for Sanders to provide the same things that Ibaka does for the Thunder, namely rebounding, blocked shots and efficient scoring.
Its too early to truly say what Larry Sanders' ceiling is, but he sure is shaping up to be something special for the Milwaukee Bucks.
All statistics are up to date as of 12/23/12
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