For rookies, there is no better organization than the San Antonio Spurs. Their player development and coaching is second to none in helping unpolished players refine their craft. With Tim Duncan retiring and David West and Boban Marjanovic leaving in free agency, and Boris Diaw traded away, the Spurs are hoping that their latest development project, Kyle Anderson, is finally ready to flourish and provide much needed frontcourt depth. All signs point that he’s ready to do so.
With more minutes available, Anderson seems poised to break out. In his rookie year, Anderson spent time shuffling between the Spurs and the D-League. The reason for this was twofold: to give Anderson more seasoning and the Spurs were already so deep there wasn’t really space for him on the roster. Although Anderson only appeared in 33 games during his rookie year, averaging a meager 2.2 PPG, 2.2 RPG, and 0.8 APG, he thrived in the D-League. In 26 D-League games, Anderson averaged 21.3 PPG, 8.7 RPG, and 4.8 APG. And his success did not stop once the D-League season ended. Anderson played brilliantly in the 2015 Summer League, averaging 22 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 1.5 APG. His performance carried the Spurs to the championship, and netted him the Summer League MVP honors.
Anderson’s outstanding play in the Summer League earned him a rotation spot last season, serving primarily as Kawhi Leonard’s backup. Anderson appeared in 78 games last season, including 11 starts, averaging 16 MPG, 4.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG, and 1.6 APG. Needless to say, these numbers are not overwhelming.
However, Anderson’s season last year should not be defined by his offensive output, but rather by his increased playing time. And heading into next season with the Spurs frontcourt not as deep as it’s been in the past, expect Anderson to see the floor even more.
Anderson’s situation heading into next year is reminiscent of C.J. McCollum’s last season production. Granted, Anderson isn’t going to be thrust into a starting role and see his offensive game improve exponentially like McCollum, but both players developmental arc is quite similar. Both had minimal impact their rookie season, but showcased tremendous talent in the summer league. Both showed improvement in their second season. And in McCollum’s third year, much like Anderson’s upcoming third year, there was a great opportunity to seize more minutes and firmly establish himself in the league. I’m not saying Anderson is going to take a quantum leap like McCollum did in his third season, but with the opportunity that Anderson has in front of him to become the key reserve off the bench, it seems like he’s poised to run with it.
Anderson’s versatility and excellent fit in the Spurs system makes a breakout season seem inevitable.
At 6’ 9”, Anderson is mostly a small forward, but he is also capable of playing power forward. Versatility is paramount in the Spurs system, both offensively and defensively. Offensively, it is needed because the Spurs system relies so heavily on ball movement. Big men who can handle the ball and find open shooters on the arc provide the Spurs with a great advantage. Over the past few seasons, Boris Diaw has filled this role. Now Diaw is in Utah, and the Spurs need someone on their roster to fill Diaw’s void.
Enter Kyle Anderson.
ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy has tabbed Anderson as a mini Boris Diaw, praising Anderson’s unique passing ability. Anderson will be able to do much of what Diaw has done, dishing out beautiful dimes to shooters on the arc from the post, while driving opposing coaches mad.
Defensively, versatility is crucial in the Spurs system because of how much they switch pick-and-roles. The Spurs rely on their switching defense to stunt teams’ ability to get and make open threes. It worked last year, as the Spurs led the league in three point defense. In Anderson, the Spurs have someone who struggles a little athletically, but he can stick with a perimeter oriented three or a stretch four. If he has to switch onto a more post oriented four, Anderson can do that as well.
Anderson’s ability to be a jack of all trades for the Spurs will earn him more minutes, which will ultimately enable him to flourish and showcase his talents.
Anderson’s defensive improvement over the course of last season can be seen as another sign that he’s ready to emerge as a solid player in the league.
With most of his reserves, Gregg Poppovich allocates minutes largely based on one rule: if you defend, and do so at a high level, you will play. If not, enjoy your seat on the bench.
Anderson’s lack of athleticism and defensive struggles contributed to his lack of playing time in his rookie year. Instead of pouting, Anderson refined his defense in the summer league, and throughout last year. As a result, Anderson earned more playing time as the season went on.
Anderson’s peripheral defensive numbers are not Earth shattering: 0.4 BPG 0.8 SPG. But examining some of the more advanced defensive stats uncovers Anderson’s defensive potential. Anderson ranked fifth among small forwards in DRPM last season, turning in a DRPM of 1.97. Furthermore, Anderson posted a Diff% of –1.2% , indicating that he closes out shots well and sticks to his man. Lastly, Anderson demonstrated defensive improvement as last season waned on as Anderson’s defensive rating improved from 101.2 in October, all the way down to 93.6 in April. With Anderson continuing to show improvement in his defense, Gregg Poppovich will be more willing to stick him out on the court, and Anderson can excel at both ends of the floor.
Everything seems to be pointing towards Kyle Anderson having a breakout season next year. Granted, I don’t expect Anderson to drastically increase his offensive output with an expanded role, like suddenly averaging 20 PPG. However, expect Anderson to show significant offensive improvement. To that end, 538 projects Anderson’s offensive plus minus to increase and his WAR to be a solid 2.4.
With his larger role, unique versatility, and defensive improvement, look for Anderson to be one of the pleasant surprises in the 2016-2017 season.
photo via llananba