Cleveland Cavaliers: Can Larry Sanders Save The Defense?

Mar 14, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers center Larry Sanders (9) looks on during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs won 128-96. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 14, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers center Larry Sanders (9) looks on during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs won 128-96. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

To repeat as NBA champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers will need Larry Sanders‘ to excel as the popular defensive presence he was prior to stepping away from the NBA.

According to, in 2015-16, the Cleveland Cavaliers ranked 10th in defensive efficiency at 102.3. They relied heavily on defense to overcome their 3-1 NBA Finals and won an NBA Championship.

However, in 2016-17, it has been a totally different story as the Cavaliers rank outside of the top-20 in defensive efficiency. Is there any way that recent free agent signee Larry Sanders can save the defense?

It is almost playoff time, and the Cavaliers are one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA. As a fan, are you worried? According to, opposing teams are putting up 106.9 points per game against them.

Scoring over 100 points is not a rarity. Far from it, but it is concerning that Cleveland gave up 126 points to a rebuilding Denver Nuggets franchise. If you are worried you are not alone.

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Also according to ESPN, the last team to win the NBA title that ranked outside of the top-10 in defensive efficiency was the Miami Heat in 2005-2006. The Cavaliers are currently 22nd.

If you are scoring at home, that’s less than one team on average over the past decade! If the Cavaliers are going to have a shot at the NBA title in 2016-2017, they are going to have to find a spark on the defensive end.

That spark? It might come in the form of Sanders.

The Cavaliers recalled the former Milwaukee Bucks center from the Canton Charge for Friday night’s game against the Charlotte Hornets. While Sanders is likely not “in-game shape” yet, he gives the Cleveland’s defense a rim protector.

In one game with the Charge, Sanders had three blocks and five fouls in just under 12 minutes of action. While that doesn’t seem like an effective night, Cavaliers fans ought to be encouraged by the three blocks.

Sanders was out of the NBA last season and only played a portion of the 2014-15 season. The reason he played in the NBA D-League was to regain his conditioning, timing, and playing legs. To record three blocks in 12 minutes means that beyond anything else, he’s a natural shot blocker.

What’s missing from the Cleveland’s defense? A shot blocker, and a rim protector; Someone to protect the paint.

Also according to, Sanders has averaged 1.8 blocks during his career. Imagine him being there in the paint when the defense breaks down on the perimeter. Sanders’ presence alone will make teams think twice about that clear path to the lane.

That said, there is still a lot that Sanders needs to do before he’s ready for full-time action. He needs to learn the Cavaliers’ playbook, integrate himself into the defensive rotations, and most of all get his playing legs underneath him.

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It’s the potential impact Sanders could give the Cavaliers that is intriguing. It’s looking at those three blocks, and thinking about what it would be like to know he’s there in the paint.

Can you imagine Sanders just waiting for players like Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, and others to challenge him? I can and I cannot wait for that to become reality!

It’s no secret that the defense isn’t what it was a year ago. You can say it is due to injuries, chemistry with newly acquired players, or simply the lack of effort due to it being the regular season.

However, few can argue that the Cavaliers need help. The good news for them is that the help is on the way. Sanders can save the defense.

If Sanders can get himself into playing shape come April 15th, he will be on the Cavaliers postseason roster. He’s athletic and versatile enough to defend small forwards, power forwards, and centers.

If Sanders can avoid foul trouble, his shot blocking and rim protection skills rival any player LeBron James has had the pleasure of playing with on any team.

Night after night, the Cavaliers have a glaring problem on defense, and that once again has been rim protection. As a result, when the defense breaks down, opponents have no one to fear between the player they beat and the rim.

Sanders’ presence changes that. First of all, when he’s on the court, opponents will be wary. Secondly, he has the speed and athleticism to get himself in position to block or alter shots.

Sanders gives the Cavaliers the piece they need for another title run. General manager David Griffin has done a great job surrounding James with a variety of offensively skilled players, but at the cost of defensive talent.

That’s where Sanders changes the mold. Sanders’ only job and his greatest contribution to the Cavaliers will be on the defensive end.

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Ultimately, his natural ability to block shots, and his versatility will only serve to help head coach Tyronn Lue and ease the load on LeBron while on defense. Cleveland needs help on defense, and Sanders could be the one to save them.