Mar 27, 2014; Memphis, TN, USA; UCLA Bruins guard/forward Kyle Anderson (5) dribbles the ball in transition ahead of Florida Gators guard/forward DeVon Walker (25) during the first half in the semifinals of the south regional of the 2014 NCAA Mens Basketball Championship tournament at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
UCLA’s Kyle Anderson was one of the most divisive players of the 2014 NBA Draft. One one hand, his passing, size and positional versatility made him one of the most uniquely talented players in college basketball. The sophomore put up monster numbers (14.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 6.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 48% 3FG) and was a consistent triple-double threat while leading the Bruins to the Sweet 16 of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. On the other hand, scouts criticized the 6’9″, 230 lb. Anderson for his high body fat percentage, lack of athleticism, and deliberate pace. The consensus was that Anderson, while skilled, lacked the athleticism, speed and man-to-man defensive ability to be a star, or even a starting NBA point guard. However, it was apparent that Anderson could make an impact if he landed on the right team.
Fortunately for Anderson, he landed on the right team. The San Antonio Spurs Spurs selecting Anderson with the 30th overall pick was a match made in heaven. The Spurs have a history of taking unconventional or overlooked talents and turning them into useful role players. Boris Diaw, arguably Anderson’s closest NBA player comp, was stagnating with the Charlotte Bobcats until the Spurs turned him into a pivotal role player who helped them win the 2014 Finals with his play as a point forward. Anderson could easily play a similar role in the Spurs offense.
Anderson doesn’t have the speed or athleticism to thrive as a primary ball handler in a fast-paced, run-and-gun offense. But he could thrive as a cog in the Spurs’ methodical system based on movement, passing and teamwork. Anderson won’t have to handle the ball in isolation or as a point guard but will have ample opportunities to use his size and passing to create mismatches and find open teammates. His improved mid-range jumper and ability to shoot from beyond the arc can also give the Spurs yet another weapon from outside. And while Anderson still projects as a sub-par defender overall, his athletic weakness can be masked by the Spurs’ defensive system, and his length and anticipation can lead to defensive rebounds and steals.
For further evidence of Anderson’s fit, one merely as to look at the Spurs’ recent draft history. Since taking Tim Duncan first overall in 1997, the Spurs have never picked higher than 24th overall, yet they’ve managed to find late round gems such as Tony Parker (28th overall) and Manu Ginobili (57th), as well as solid NBA players such as Tiago Splitter, George Hill, DeJuan Blair, Luis Scola, John Salmons, Leandro Barbosa, and Beno Udrih. They excel at finding players that fit their system and have a knack for recognizing players that have what it takes to stay in the league.
Anderson has a great shot to join that list. He won’t be a star, but his passing and basketball IQ can shine through on the Spurs. He also has the luxury of learning from the best coach in the league in Gregg Popovich, with three great leaders in Duncan, Parker and Ginobili and a fellow point forward in Diaw who can serve as a mentor. Anderson going to the Spurs is an example of a player landing in the perfect situation, and if he pans out he may become one of the 2014 draft’s biggest steals.