In fact, the solution comes down to Sanders taking steps in three simple areas: offensive improvement, anger management and playing smarter defense. Making changes in these areas will help Sanders not only become a more valuable player for the Bucks.
They'll also help him become one of the NBA's best centers.
During the 2012-13 season—the first in which he played significant minutes—Sanders put together a very respectable year offensively. In 27.3 minutes per game, he averaged 9.8 points while shooting 50.6 percent from the field.
Building on those numbers this season will be crucial, especially considering the fact that he signed a four-year, $44 million extension over the summer. In order to live up to that paycheck, improvements in Sanders' offensive game need to be made.
To do that, he'll need to develop a much stronger post-up game.
As shown in the table below—information courtesy of Synergy Sports (head on over there for the full table)—a lot of Sanders' offense is dependent on rebounds or teammates setting him up at the basket.
|Play Type (Ends in Field-Goal Attempt, Turnover or Free Throw)||Number of Plays||FGM||FGA||FG%|
|P&R Roll Man||183||77||140||55%|
Looking at that data, it's obvious Sanders relies a lot on his athleticism in order to score. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but eventually every big man needs to learn how to score from the block. Developing finesse moves not only allows big men to extend their careers; it also makes them much more difficult to defend.
If Sanders is able to craft a few very good post moves, defenders will have a much tougher time preventing him from getting to the hoop with his athletic ability.
Milwaukee remaining a playoff contender depends on a lot of things, but Sanders putting together a more well-rounded offensive game will be a big factor.
There's a fine line between being passionate and becoming overly emotional. Heading into the upcoming season, Sanders must be able to make that distinction in highly charged moments.
In 2012-13, Sanders was whistled for 14 technical fouls and was tossed from games a league-high five times (per ESPN.com).
And while he's not DeMarcus Cousins, he definitely needs to learn how to harness his emotions.
Much of his frustration can probably be tied to the fact that he averaged 3.3 personal fouls during the 71 games he appeared in last season.
Regardless of whether fouls called against him are correct or questionable, Sanders needs to learn how to let go of his frustration. The same can be said when he doesn't get calls on the offensive end. It's perfectly fine to approach officials and question calls in a calm, polite manner. Plenty of players do that, and most officials are willing to give an explanation.
However, the 24-year-old is quickly developing a reputation as a hot head, and that stigma will stick with him throughout his career if he doesn't change things in a hurry.
His temper doesn't just remove him from the court physically in the form of ejections; it also takes him out of the game mentally when he does remain on the floor. Becoming obsessed with what the officials are doing never benefits the team or individual. As evidence by his number of ejections, Sanders doesn't know where to draw the line.
And that's a scary thought.
In order for he and the Bucks to be successful, Sanders will need to listen to his coaches and learn when to cool it.
Playing Smarter Defense
One way Sanders can help keep his emotions in check is by learning how to become a smarter defender.
Like many players who are athletically gifted, Sanders often relies on that athleticism to make up for deficiencies on defense.
And that style of play is what can get the big man into foul trouble.
Sanders often tends to wander, finding himself out of position and unable to rotate efficiently to provide help defense. His length, athleticism and knack for blocking shots sometimes mask that fact, but there are also plenty of times when a late rotation will lead to him to committing a dumb foul.
Being a good defender isn't all about a player's individual skill; understanding the concept of team defense is at least half the battle. Sometimes Sanders tends to forget that, which is why he ends up committing a lot of silly fouls by trying to recover well after the opportunity has closed.
If the coaching staff can drill the concepts of rotation and team defense into his head, Sanders will not only stay out of foul trouble, but he'll become an even better shot-blocker than he already is.
That's a scary concept.