Kyle Anderson is well on his way to becoming the latest talent disregarded by the rest of the league to be discovered by the San Antonio Spurs.
No franchise in the NBA is better at finding overlooked prospects in the later parts of the draft and polishing their game to turn them into important contributors.
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Anderson was drafted 30th overall in the 2014 NBA draft. While it’s considered a victory to simply select a back-end rotation player in this general area of the draft, Anderson has flashed playmaking skills that indicate the high likelihood of him being a critical piece to the Spurs’ future.
Anderson provides many of the same skills of former Spur Boris Diaw, just in a much younger package. Both are excellent passers equipped with the vision and poise to play a unique version of “point forward.”
Anderson’s basketball genesis foretold of his future multipurpose characteristics on the court. He played AAU basketball with older players who were much taller than him. This obstacle forced Anderson to learn how to play point guard and develop passing and dribbling skills that big men
usually neglect due to how they’re trained to play only in the post.
He eventually grew to be 6-foot-8, and played power forward at UCLA. Although he thrived in college as a guy who could fill up the stat sheet with points, rebounds, and assists, his lack of quickness made pro scouts doubt his ability to transition to the NBA.
As with many players who fit his general profile, Anderson was largely discounted as a guy who didn’t fit the prototype of any position out on the
Mar 28, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Kyle Anderson (1) dribbles in the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Spurs defeated the Grizzlies 101-87. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
court. He was too slow to be a tall point guard like Magic Johnson or Penny Hardaway. He was also undersized as a power forward and would get pulverized in the painted area trying to guard the behemoths who occupy roster spots as fours in the Association.
He’d most likely have to play somewhat of a blend between small forward and power forward and try to utilize his passing skills to make up for his lack of speed and strength.
Anderson has just finished up his sophomore campaign for the Spurs, and his improvements have been drastic. He has made progress in nearly every offensive category, and as the Spurs have heaped more responsibility on him, Anderson has responded with strong performances.
Anderson has the potential to blossom in the next few seasons. The Spurs are looking for Anderson to become the primary front court player off the bench. His versatility can come in handy as a reserve for either Kawhi Leonard or LaMarcus Aldridge, given his ability to play either forward position.
Despite his lack of athleticism, his defensive metrics have looked impressive. His Defensive Box Plus/Minus increased from a solid 2.4 during his rookie season to 3.7 this season. On the best defensive team in the NBA, Anderson played a key role off the bench in maintaining that defensive tenacity. Only former Spurs power forward Tim Duncan had a higher Defensive Box Plus/Minus on the team than Anderson, meaning that he ranked ahead of defensive maestros Leonard and Danny Green.
He ranked 7th on the team in Defensive Win Shares despite ranking only 11th on the team in minutes per game, proving his significant impact in limited minutes. His 7-foot-3 wingspan allows him to effectively clog passing lanes and disrupt an opposing team’s offensive rhythm, as well as partially remedy his lack of quickness.
He may not have the strength to defend huge power forwards down on the block or have the natural agility to intimidate opposing wings looking to push the tempo against him, but he brings a unique dexterity to the game around him.
Diaw was able to become a good defender despite his similar lack of athleticism, and the Spurs should be confident that Anderson can continue to grow on that end of the court surrounded by superb counterparts.
Anderson’s development as a shooter will be interesting to document. Assistant coach Chip Engelland did wonders by working with Leonard to improve his range, so there’s no reason to believe that Anderson can’t also enhance his shooting with perseverance and great tutelage. While Anderson’s assumed progression on both ends of the court is based largely on precedence from examples within the organization, he’s still shown enough individually to promote this optimism.
Anderson’s field goal percentage this season jumped about 12 points compared to his rookie season, and his 3-point field goal percentage jumped five points in that same time period. He shot 6 for 11 on right corner 3s this season, which may be an indication that he can develop more confidence in that shot to deploy it more often.
His midrange shooting in particular improved dramatically this past season. Curiously, his baseline midrange jumper has been poor throughout his NBA career as of now, but he’s making progress near the top of the key.
In fact, when isolating his midrange shots excluding the two baseline areas, Anderson had a very good year shooting the ball from that general distance. He shot 38 for 80 from either the top of the key or the areas around the elbow inside the 3-point line but not in the key.
When he stays out from the baseline, he’s become an above average shooter. His range hasn’t extended reliably beyond 20 feet yet, but given proper time and coaching it may continue to expand.
Anderson brings very idiosyncratic skills as a facilitating forward who can run an offense. He’ll be looked upon to replace Diaw as the Spurs’ point forward off the bench in the near future, and the progression that Anderson has made during his short time in the league speaks highly about the player he’ll continue to evolve into.