During his first two seasons at Virginia Commonwealth, junior Larry Sanders
was part of Eric Maynor
's supporting cast, often a defensive force who showed flashes of offensive ability. This season, now that Maynor is backing up Russell Westbrook
in the NBA and Anthony Grant is coaching Alabama, Sanders has led Virginia Commwealth to a solid, though unspectacular, 11-4 start and has showcased his strengths and weaknesses as a future NBA player along the way.
As we have written about amply, Sanders has a tremendous physical profile. Standing 6'10 in shoes with a 7'6 wingspan, he has the size and the length to play either the power forward or center positions in the NBA. Athletically, he will be among the elite at the next level, boasting excellent explosiveness, mobility, and quickness for a player with his size. A significant question mark, however, surrounds his strength and frame. Though he has wide shoulders and looks capable of adding muscle in the future, he does not appear to have improved his frame substantially during his time in Richmond, which may make things difficult for him in the NBA at times.
On the offensive end, Sanders has expanded his game significantly, but he still is a very raw player who has a long way to go before being able to contribute consistently at the next level. Sanders averages 22.4 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted, a five point improvement over his average last season. Despite using more possessions than last season, his efficiency has increased considerably, largely due to the fact that he's getting to the free throw line 8 times per-40 minutes pace adjusted, and knocking down 66% (up from 56% last season) of his attempts.
Looking beyond the numbers, Sanders still has a ways to go. His footwork, while improved, remains very raw, and he continues to look hesitant at times after receiving the ball. Now battling more intense defensive pressure, and without the benefit of a terrific passer like Eric Maynor
next to him, he isn't getting nearly as many open opportunities inside. His somewhat suspect touch around the basket certainly does not help matters, but neither do his still raw ball handling abilities and overall awareness.
Sanders is still most effective within 5 feet of the basket and while finishing in transition, catching and finishing or executing a simple move on his way to the hoop, where his combination of size, athleticism, and length put him in an elite class at the college level.
Interestingly, Sanders has relied more upon his face-up game this season, showing a part of his game that he hadn't really displayed in the past all that often. His ability to create is extremely raw at this point and would definitely be improved with better ball handling abilities, particularly with his left hand. He does not show much of a mid-range game outside of isolated, although intriguing, flashes, but this area of his game is certainly worth keeping an eye on.
More prevalent is his spot-up jump shot. He has already attempted 16 3-pointers this season, 16 more than he had previously in his career, and has also been taking some mid-range jumpers. While he's shown the ability to make a shot from time to time, it's safe to say he has room to improve in this area. He oftentimes falls away while shooting and kicks out his feet, both of which detract from his release's fluidity and consistency. While his suspect shot selection does not help matters, he does have a quick release, which combined with his length and size, could make him into a respectable spot-up shooter if he continues to improve his mechanics.
On the defensive end, Sanders is a tremendous presence due to his size, length, and athleticism, to the tune of 4.4 blocks and 7.6 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted. Sanders is an extremely good shot blocker, combining his incredible length, athleticism, and timing to alter a tremendous amount of shots over the course of the game. Though his tendency to gamble causes him to bite for fakes around the basket, there is no denying his ability as an anchor in the post, the kind of player that can alter a team's game plan by his presence.
That said, he still has a long way to go before being able to defend stronger and more versatile post players in the NBA. His lack of strength hurts him, but sometimes he looks passive when guarding his man. On the perimeter, he shows average lateral quickness, but his length helps tremendously in this area. His overall defense must continue to improve should he want to convince scouts that he has what it takes to contribute at the next level, which will in large part come down to how much strength he can add to his frame.
While Sanders has improved remarkably during his time at Virginia Commonwealth, he still has a long way to go before achieving his considerable potential. In the NBA, his lack of strength and fundamentals will certainly hold him back, and scouts will be monitoring his ability to improve in these areas. That said, 6'10 players with his length, athleticism, shot blocking abilities, and developing offensive skill sets are extremely rare, and usually get strong looks in the lottery. Sanders must assert himself in the CAA as the season moves on, and in the process show NBA scouts that he has what it takes to contribute sooner than later in the NBA.