June 26, 2014, I was sitting in a bar in Iowa City, Iowa, of all places, sipping from a cold beer in a warm glass, completely glued to the 2014 NBA Draft. I sat in that Mecca of the Midwest, hearing Mellencamp growl softly on the radio, and ESPN banter, existing in perfect harmony. I was listening.
The Spurs had of course finished the 2013-2014 season on top of the NBA, winning their fifth NBA title. And doing so in fine fashion. Beating the Heat so badly that LeBron James seemed to quit. The Spurs win at everything, so it would seem.
The names kept falling off the board as Adam Silver worked his way out of the lottery round, and into the part of the night that Spurs fans are most familiar with. Fittingly, however, once the top-10 picks come off the table the Draft becomes more about the unfamiliar. Fans have never heard of some of these players. As the NBA becomes the ultimate international sport the names get harder to pronounce, and even harder to spell, and the casual NBA fan doesn’t have the patience to maintain focus. San Antonio is always focused.
Due to their success on the court, they are seemingly always picking late. However, in years past they’ve found gold in this part of the night. Since 2003, some of the names are: Leandro Barbosa, Beno Udrih, Ian Mahinmi, Tiago Splitter, Goran Dragic, George Hill, DeJuan Blair, Cory Joseph, and last year’s pick, Livio Jean-Charles.
Once the Draft picks started to hit the high 20’s, sources were indicating that the Spurs would draft 6’9” forward Kyle Anderson of UCLA. “Alright” I thought. I had admittedly done a bit of research into the possible draftees. A lanky forward who likes to pass the ball. An opportunistic rebounder. Visions of bench-depth started played in my head.
Kyle Anderson’s natural position is actually point guard. I know. A 6’9” PG? In high school in New Jersey he played every position in a loose, open offense. Anderson’s ball skills found him controlling the offense more times than not, and leading his team, St. Anthony’s, to the New Jersey Tournament of Champions title. He was a McDonald’s All-American and New Jersey High School Player of the Year- all while considering himself a point guard.
So landing Kyle Anderson was another win for the Spurs. A ‘tweener with handles. Sounded like a plan. So what happened?
Oct 20, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Kyle Anderson (1) drives to the basket on Sacramento Kings small forward Rudy Gay (8) during the second half at AT&T Center. The Spurs won 106-99. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Well, as I am again sitting in the land of Little Pink Houses I can tell you that Anderson is safely in Boise, Idaho. Planted on the Austin Spurs’ roster. Tonight they are playing the Idaho Stampede. A far cry from the AT&T Center and the NBA.
Anderson never took ahold of the opportunity with the Spurs. Moved fluidly between the D-League and the NBA. On November 23rd he was assigned to Austin and I decried him finished. I saw his departure from the NBA as a missed opportunity. A victim of the ire of Gregg Popovich. A failed draft pick.
Then he was called back up the next day proving that writers can be too reactive.
He played spot minutes until his first NBA start in December due to injuries to five of the Spurs- who cruised to a win over the Knicks. He kept earning minutes as Kawhi Leonard sat with a hand injury. Upon Leonard’s return to active duty in San Antonio, Anderson was ejected. Back to Austin.
And here he would stay.
Anderson has been more than excellent in the D-League. In nine games he is averaging 21.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game. But isn’t that to be expected? Isn’t he a first-round pick? The simple answer to both questions is yes.
He is the victim of health. The health of Kawhi Leonard. He is the victim of free agency. In between players like Danny Green, Boris Diaw, and Marco Belinelli are all claiming minutes. And he is the victim of success. San Antonio expects to be in the NBA Playoffs. And they expect to win.
Popovich has a history of distrust when it comes to rookies. That is why his relationship with Tony Parker is so special. He methodically tightens his bench, restricting time for players expected to contribute to the playoff push. Anderson is not one of those players.
In that way the D-League is of no benefit to the NBA. With a minor league full of cast offs and futures-with-potential NBA coaches aren’t forced to integrate draftees into their rosters immediately. There is no rush. In fact, the D-League All Star Game pits “Futures” against “Prospects.” Contending NBA teams won’t give minutes to a developmental prospect while in pursuit of a title. And now, there is no need.
I’m rooting for Anderson. He has shown the ability to dominate at each level. At St. Anthony’s, at UCLA, and now in the D-League. As the Spurs’ Big-Three become the Big-Two (Parker and Leonard), and the roster is shuffled, Anderson will get his shot. Depending on the outcome of this up-and-down season for the NBA’s Spurs, that shot may happen as quickly as next year.