The 2012-13 season marked the third in the league for Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders, and it's safe to say it was his breakout year. But even after putting together an impressive season, Sanders will need to put in countless hours this summer in order to maximize his potential for next season.
What will he need to work on?
Well, even though he finished second in blocks per game and developed into an intimidating presence, he still has plenty of room for growth defensively. In addition, if he really wants to be considered a premier center, he has a lot to learn offensively. Finally—and maybe most importantly—he'll have to learn how to harness his temper.
Taking the Next Step Defensively
As previously mentioned, Sanders emerged as one of the league's most intimidating shot-blockers in 2012-13 by averaging 2.8 blocks per game.
Still, he has a lot to learn in order to become a complete defensive player.
Many times throughout the course of the year, Sanders—like many Bucks players—found himself out of position and was late rotating defensively. Due to his excellent length and ability to block shots, it often was disguised and went unnoticed.
When it was exposed, though, it was quite noticeable.
Not only were opponents able to score easily at the rim when rotations broke down, but Sanders also got into foul trouble quite frequently as evidenced by the 3.3 fouls he committed per game—which ranked eighth among all players.
There's no denying that the natural instincts and physical attributes to become a great defender are in place, but those alone won't allow him to improve significantly. To continue growing, he must truly grasp defensive fundamentals and basic concepts—like rotation.
If he can do that, he'll put himself into better position. Blocking shots will be easier and his habit of committing fouls should decrease.
Being the gifted athlete that he is, he'll always make his presence known defensively. But if he can do the small things to improve, he could become a truly great defender.
Becoming a Complete Offensive Threat
Sanders has taken steps in improving offensively during each of his first three seasons, but he has a tremendous amount of ground to make up.
The one area in which his defense directly influences his offense is in relation to those 3.3 fouls per game.
Sanders averaged just 27.3 minutes per game last season, and a large reason for that was his inability to consistently stay on the court due to constantly being in foul trouble.
In order to improve offensively, he must first learn how to stay out of foul trouble; otherwise, he'll never play enough minutes to make a significant impact.
Connecting on 50.6 percent of his field-goal attempts, Sanders was pretty efficient. Around the rim, he connected on 265 of 469 shots with a 56.5 field-goal percentage, proving that he cleaned up nicely in that area.
But outside of that spot on the floor, Sanders struggled, as depicted in the above shot chart courtesy of NBA.com/Stats.
Improving that mid-range jump shot and being able to hit it with consistency will be a major determining factor to his success or failure on the offensive end moving forward.
That's not the only area that needs work, though.
When he gets the ball in the post, Sanders often hesitates. One possible reason for this is his lack of go-to moves.
Many of his points came from offensive rebounds or on easy dunks. If his goal is to become an offensive force, though, he'll need to develop a low-block game.
Visiting Hakeem Olajuwon's big-man camp this summer would be the most intelligent career move he could possibly make.
Sanders shouldn't make the mistake of waiting.
He should be proactive and try to get better offensively right away instead of waiting for his age to catch up with him like Amar'e Stoudemire made the mistake of doing.
Learning from arguably the greatest post player of all time would be a tremendous step in the right direction in terms of Sanders' offensive game.
Keeping a Cool Head
Throughout the season, Sanders had trouble keeping his temper in check whenever a call went against him or didn't go his way.
In fact, with 14 technical fouls and five ejections—the most in the league—to his name, per ESPN.com, he has a long way to go in terms of managing his emotions.
Playing with emotion is great, but only to a certain extent.
Not only that, but it's also never good when ejections start piling up and you surpass DeMarcus Cousins in that category. Being compared to a headcase like Cousins is probably something Sanders wants to avoid.
Working on getting into better defensive position will help him avoid unnecessary fouls and will hopefully cut down on the moments in which he feels the need to go after officials.
Regardless, Sanders sometimes appears to be too emotionally invested in the game of basketball and obviously has trouble controlling himself at times.
Seeing someone play with an authentic passion and fire is tremendous, but when that player can't seem to turn it on or off at the appropriate time, it becomes detrimental to the team.
If he can learn how to play under control, harness that emotion and use it for becoming a better player, his future will be even brighter than it already is.
Accomplishing all of these things over the course of one summer might be a stretch, but no one should be asking him to.
Making significant strides in certain areas would be great, but as long as he's able to make good progress, Sanders will be a better, more complete player than he was for the Bucks during the 2012-13 season.