Luc Mbah a Moute shakes hands with Masai Ujiri at Summer League (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

For the past five seasons, defense has been the calling card of Luc Mbah a Moute.

When the newest forward for the Sacramento Kings was at his best, he was often found locking down the opposition’s top offensive weapon.  From Kevin Durant to Chris Paul, Mbah a Moute was up for the challenge no matter what position.

That eagerness on defense is something the Kings are hoping the 26-year-old veteran brings to the capital city.  It’s something that Larry Sanders, a former teammate of Mbah a Moute’s, knows all too well.

“Luc’s a tough competitor, especially on the defensive end,” Sanders told Cowbell Kingdom during USA Basketball mini-camp in Las Vegas last week.  ”He’s a guy who really takes pride in playing defense and guarding the best player on the team.  Numerous times where he’s had guys to cover and did a great job on them – some of the best scorers in the league.”

Sanders has spent parts of his first three years in the NBA anchoring the Milwaukee Bucks’ defense alongside Mbah a Moute.  The 24-year-old big man thinks that one of the biggest benefits Mbah a Moute will bring to Sacramento is his competitive spirit.

“He’s gonna play hard,” Sanders said.  ”Everything about him, he plays hard.”

Like Mbah a Moute, Sanders knows defense.  Last year, the fourth-year big man out of VCU became the first Buck to record 200 blocks in a single season since Elmore Smith did so back in the 1975-76 season.  However, it took some time for Sanders to carve out his niche in the NBA because the transition from college wasn’t easy.

Fortunately, Sanders had, among others, Mbah a Moute to lean on during his transition.  Sanders credits Mbah a Moute for helping him stay the course when the pro game got tough.

“When I first came into the league, he was one of the guys that was always in my ear,” Sanders said. “Telling me to stay focused, not to get discouraged, not to get too down on myself, keep my confidence up and things like that.”

That even-keeled attitude could wind up coming in handy for Mbah a Moute in Sacramento.  The Kings are in the midst of transition themselves and could use a veteran presence that can help facilitate the culture change being ushered in by new coach Michael Malone.

“He was very valuable to me when I came into the league,” Sanders added.

Players with defensive pedigrees like Mbah a Moute don’t just come at a discounted price without some baggage.  Mbah a Moute arrives in Sacramento with major questions about his health.  Since signing a new contract with the Bucks before the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season, the 26-year-old forward has played in just 101 out of a possible 148 games the past two years due mainly to tendinitis in his right knee.

Despite the setbacks, Sanders said that Mbah a Moute was actively engaged in his recovery and “never got too frustrated about it”.  Sanders believes that Mbah a Moute still has some ways to go, but thinks the 26-year-old forward is doing what needs to be done in order to become the player he once was.

“I think he’s still working through it a little bit, but he’s a lot better than he was a couple years ago so I think he’s moving in the right direction,” Sanders said.

With a void needing to be filled at small forward, the Kings hope Sanders is right.  Acquiring Mbah a Moute is a low risk move for new general manager Pete D’Alessandro, but it could reap high rewards for Sacramento if the veteran forward is indeed heading in the “right direction”.