PLAYERS TO WATCH FOR: Justin Anderson
As the highly anticipated 2017 NBA season inches closer, new reconstructed rosters will finally be put to the test to prove if their offseason transactions have upgraded their odds of hoisting the ever so illusive Larry O’Brien Trophy. The country’s most promising college prospects have been drafted, phenom and B-list free agents have opted out and signed anew, chess pieces have been strategically traded and acquired, old coaches have been fired, and new coaches have been hired. Now that we are finally within one month of tipoff, rather than speculating on how these new teams will fair, I’m starting a new column highlighting individual players to watch for. Not for fantasy purposes, flashy highlights, or even award races; but for those who fly relatively under the radar that I believe have made, and will continue to make significant strides in their development and will have a noticeable impact on their team’s success this season.
This speculation is nothing more than my own personal opinions, and I will happily break down my thought process and reasoning for the conclusions I reach. The foundation of my judgment resides in the player’s surrounding roster, role on the team, coach, and all of this information compared to last year’s corresponding context, to specify areas of improvement and opportunity. To answer your question, no, I will not strictly cling to my beloved Mavericks, for there are far too many intriguing players out there to ignore. I will, however, start with one, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.
Justin Anderson is nothing short of a pitbull. He’s 6’6” and 230 pounds of muscle, energy, and genuine passion for the game of basketball. Anderson was drafted 21st overall by the Dallas Mavericks in 2015 and will enter the second season of his career bearing much greater value than when he first came into the league.
By the Numbers:
Patience and preparation seemed to be the cornerstone of Anderson’s rookie season. He appeared in just 37 games and averaged 8.5 mpg from October all the way through February. In that time, his average stat line read 2.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.3 spg, and 0.3 bpg. Nowhere near impressive. The reality was that Anderson was fourth in the rotation behind Chandler Parsons, Wesley Matthews, and Devin Harris, and his production and efficiency weren’t stellar enough to move him up the pecking order.
When the Mavericks roster had succumbed to Parsons’ season-ending knee surgery just in time for the final playoff stretch, a begrudging Rick Carlisle, who is known for his restraint in using underdeveloped young players, was forced to call Anderson’s number out of pure necessity. In the final two months, his playing time was upgraded to 20.3 mpg in 18 games and was ultimately thrown into the fire. The unexpected opportunity that was thrusted upon him could potentially make or break his future in the NBA, and he seized the moment. During that stretch, Justin Anderson averaged 6.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.6 spg, and 0.9 bpg. These numbers still aren’t special, but anyone who pays attention can clearly see that Anderson had been prepared for the opportunity, whenever it would come. What was most impressive was that his off-the-ball statistics particularly spiked as his playing time increased and got more comfortable and involved in the game. His high-energy style of play was put on full display at the end of the regular season, and proved himself a significant commodity in the playoffs.
Justin Anderson started in all five summer league games the Mavericks played this past July and in 28 mpg, he averaged 16 ppg, 7 rpg, and 2.5 apg. Why am I throwing all these stats at you? Notice the trend. With increased playing time, Anderson’s numbers have consistently risen each and every time the opportunity was earned. His scoring ability has significantly improved, but again what’s most impressive is his all-around game.
Justin Anderson’s role on the team will be exactly what I first called him at the beginning of this scout. He’s the pitbull, the spark plug, the freak energy that every team desperately needs off the bench. Whether the starters come out stale or come out gunning, he’ll be there to come in and turn things around, or to put the foot on the throat. He’s earned Rick Carlisle’s trust and will lead the second wave of Mavericks off the bench alongside fellow guards, JJ Barea and Devin Harris. With role models like Wesley Matthews and Harrison Barnes, both work horses in their own right, and a mentor in Dirk Nowitzki, I’m predicting his production will shatter expectations this year, while at the same time continuing to improve and expand his game.
Bonus Comparison: I see a lot of Andre Iguodala in this young gun. Their built the same and have a similar all-around style game. Iguodala’s best season was in ’07-’08, where he averaged 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game, along with 2 steals and almost 1 block as well. I think those type of numbers are not impossible for Justin Anderson to put out on a consistent basis eventually in his career, and as a Mavericks fanatic, I couldn't be more ecstatic for that day to come.