This is an important season for the careers of both Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders moving forward. Maynor is in the fourth and final year of his rookie contract and coming off a season-ending ACL tear. Sanders has been a bit of an enigma in Milwaukee his first two seasons, but is showing signs of breaking through. That makes both of their preseasons all the more worthy of inspection.
This was an interesting preseason for Sanders. On one hand, he seemed to really help his prospects by playing pretty darn good on the floor. He was better offensively than he’ll get credit for, and he was great rebounding the ball and blocking shots. His per 36 minute averages of 12.8 rebounds and 4.1 blocks are eye-catching. But there’s a flip side. Sanders was suspended for one game for “conduct” issues during the preseason. In addition, he continued to foul at a head-spinning rate of 7.1 per 36 minutes.
Despite his shortcomings, Sanders appears to be making headway in Milwaukee and could even start at center, especially if Samuel Dalembert continues his slow and steady decline.
The real battle here appears to be between Dalembert, Sanders and Udoh. And if we’re using preseason numbers, it’s hard to look away from Sanders. He’s been a better shot-blocker, rebounder and scorer than Dalembert in his five games. Plus he has a mobility that Dalembert lacks – even if he doesn’t have the same awareness defensively. And defense is where this battle will be won. The Bucks didn’t go crazy for shot-blocking this offseason to ignore it come November. They want a center that provides support defensively first and foremost.
This is an important preseason for Maynor as well, but for different reasons. Maynor’s coming off the first serious injury of his career and needs to establish two things. No. 1, he needs to prove to the Thunder, and himself, that he’s healthy. No. 2, he needs to remind Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks that he remains a better option than Reggie Jackson, the second-year man who filled for Maynor last season. He appears to have succeeded on both counts. Maynor’s performance this preseason should set him up for solid minutes again behind Russell Westbrook.
Take away that bulky black contraption tucked beneath the black sleeve covering his right leg and you wouldn’t be able to tell Maynor had even torn up his knee. There are moments like Tuesday night, when Maynor shows the same wizardry that he’s always possessed running an offense.
It’s important that Maynor’s healthy and ready to contribute, because this is a contract year, and there are plenty of teams out there in search of playmaker. If he plays well, there could be a starting role waiting for him somewhere. On Monday, The Oklahoman reported that the Thunder and Maynor had put contract negotiations on hold, which makes it all the more likely that he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer.