MILWAUKEE (AP) — What a difference a year makes for Milwaukee Bucks forward Larry Sanders.
The 6-11 Sanders, who is in his third year with the Bucks, struggled a year ago to be consistent during the lock-out shortened season, averaging 3.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game over 12.5 minutes. He had only three games the entire season where he scored more than 10 points.
So far this season, Sanders has been the model of consistency, averaging 12 points per game while playing a career-high 27 minutes per game and helping the Bucks to jump out to a surprising 3-2 record.
He has scored more than 10 points in each of the first five games, highlighted by a career-high 17 points against Cleveland on Nov. 3, and has two double-doubles. He only had a total of two double-doubles in his first two years in the league.
On Saturday, Sanders scored 10 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as Milwaukee lost a close one to Boston 96-92. The night before, Sanders scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds in a 101-91 win over Washington.
"I feel more comfortable on the court this year," Sanders said. "I know if I play hard and under control, I can help make a difference."
Sanders, a 2010 first-round pick from Virginia Commonwealth, is quickly becoming a fan favorite for his hustle. The crowd saluted him with chants of "Lar-ry, Lar-ry" as he left the floor after fouling out late in the Nov. 3 home opener and they were chanting his name again Saturday against Boston after Sanders dove on the floor after a loose ball.
"I just love the fans in Milwaukee," he said. "It's good to hear that and feel the love and I just want to return it to them. I really like playing here because of the way the fans treat you. That's something you hear about coming to Milwaukee. I didn't really see it too much my first two years, but it's time to bring that back."
Sanders is also impressing his coach, who has noticed the more consistent player and given him more playing time.
"It was never a case of if Larry could have a good game," coach Scott Skiles said. "It was always could he follow it up and have another good game and another good game. He's one of those guys that really about all he has to have is energy and focus in a game and he'll get something done. He'll block a shot, he'll rebound the ball and be around the basket. He'll get a dunk."
Skiles said this year Sanders is not trying to do too much when he gets the ball.
"He gets the ball near the basket and instead of dribbling too much and trying to make multiple moves, he's keeping it simple," Skiles said. "He's sticking with his jump hook or dunking the ball. He's been able to do both of those things. He's caught more balls than he's caught in the past and been able to finish."
Sanders has even impressed opposing coaches. Boston coach Doc Rivers said Sanders is type of player every coach would like to have on his team.
Sanders has scored 20 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in the Bucks' two games against Boston so far this season.
"He has that aggressiveness and energy that all coaches love to see," Rivers said. "He seems to have more confidence this year and it is paying off for him on the court."