Ryan Anderson and the Bounce Back Year

Ryan Anderson found himself relegated to bench duty last season and not just after suffering a pair of injuries in February. Despite decent numbers with the New Orleans Pelicans, he started just five games and sat on the sidelines. It was a role reversal for the full-time Orlando Magic starter in 2011-12. While there’s no shame in backing up Anthony Davis, former New Orleans coach Monty Williams limited Anderson to 27 minutes per game. In contrast, Anderson played 31 minutes per contest during 2012-13 and 36 minutes in a shortened 2013-14 campaign.

Now that Alvin Gentry has been hired as head coach for the Pelicans, after his success with the Warriors, Anderson should benefit from the newly constructed rotation. I certainly expect Anderson to have an expanded role compared to the one he occupied in 2014-15.

In terms of Player Efficiency Rating, Anderson’s finest season was 2011-12, when his performance was a major factor in propelling the Magic into the postseason. His points per game jumped to 16.1 from 10.6 the previous year, and he averaged nearly four offensive rebounds per game for a PER of 21.23. By one metric known as Offensive Box Plus-Minus, the only more valuable offensive players that year were LeBron James and Chris Paul. That might seem like unlikely company, but Anderson’s 166 three-pointers were first in the league by far and he converted them at a 39.3% rate.

Anthony Davis is one of the league’s biggest stars and by the numbers Anderson pairs very well with him. In fact, over the past two seasons, Anderson and Davis combined for a whopping 113.4 Offensive Rating, or points created per hundred possessions. Even when you factor in defense, Anderson’s Net Rating of +6 while on the floor with Davis during the last two seasons was the best on the team.

Center Omer Asik may be the better defender but Anderson has major strengths in other areas. He can create off the dribble, make free throws at a terrific 86% clip, and crash the boards more than you’d expect. A career average of about six rebounds per game may seem pedestrian for a power forward but it’s a solid contribution given that he plays so much behind the arc. Of course, the range itself is especially useful as a deterrent to opposing coaches who might otherwise double team Davis.

Overcoming adversity can seem like an overused theme in professional sports but there’s no getting around what Anderson has been through in recent times. In August of 2013, his girlfriend Gia Allemand committed suicide. The tragedy was a major blow to Anderson who, afterwards, moved in with his parents temporarily while he dealt with the shock and a sense of guilt he couldn’t shake. The next season, basketball became a sort of haven for him. Coach Williams was a major factor in getting him back on the right track mentally, and teammates gave him a sense of community that he lacked during the summer. Anderson no longer feared failure on the court as much as he once had and the result was a career-high 19.8 points per game before injuries ended his year. It’s never easy to put the aftermath of such awful events in a neat package but Anderson survived that summer and certainly knows he can get past a poor shooting night.

If Anderson wants to stay on the floor longer next season, better health is key. When it comes to Anderson’s recent conditioning, Pelicans strength coach Jason Sumerlin is unusually excited. He recommended a special high-intensity training program that has Anderson looking leaner and feeling more confident. According to Anderson, he has lost 20 pounds in the offseason alone. Last year he battled a herniated disc that left him focused on rehabilitation and restricted his workouts prior to the start of training camp. That led Anderson to comment back in April that “it feels like a long time since I felt like myself physically.” Now, he’s well on his way to doing just that.

A final factor that bodes well for Anderson’s productivity is Gentry himself. He has a reputation as an offensive wizard and his time as associate head coach for the Warriors only enhanced that image. Golden State became known for its constant motion and Gentry may well implement a similar scheme for the Pelicans. That should help Anderson get open looks and accelerate the Pelicans often slow tempo which was the major reason behind their bad losses to teams like the Knicks and Kings last season. Gentry also has a good sense of player value, which means Anderson’s efficiency will likely be rewarded with more minutes on the court.

photo via llananba