ATLANTA - MAY 08: Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks shoots against Dwight Howard #12 and Ryan Anderson #33 of the Orlando Magic during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 8, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Our series of 2009/2010 Orlando Magic player evaluations begins with Ryan Anderson, whom Orlando acquired in the draft-day deal Vince Carter headlined. Coach Stan Van Gundy raised some eyebrows when he announced the second-year power forward would take All-Star Rashard Lewis' spot in the starting lineup during Lewis' 10-game suspension to open the season, but that move paid off. In his 6 starts before spraining his ankle, Anderson shone, averaging 15 points on 60.6% True Shooting to go with 5 boards in just 24.8 minutes per game. Extrapolated over 36 minutes, that's roughly 21 points and 7 rebounds. Only 4 players have matched that per-minute productivity with scoring efficiency over the last 10 years, and you're on a first-name basis with all of them: Yao, Shaq, Dirk, and Amar'e. But alas, that's just a 6-game sample in an 82-game season, and things really had nowhere to go but down for Anderson once Lewis returned to the court.
|Points Per Game||Rebounds Per Game||Blocks Per Game|
|Points Per 36||Rebounds Per 36||Blocks Per 36|
|PER||Rebound Rate||Block Rate|
All statistics in this table from Anderson's player page at basketball-reference. Career-high statistics highlighted in gold.
Let's put it this way: Anderson played 16.7% of his minutes in the first 7.3% of the season. And the bench wasn't too kind to him. Sure, he was productive, with 7 points and 3 rebounds in only 13.4 minutes per game, but he also was markedly less efficient.
However, Anderson does numerous things well. He's a knock-down shooter, for one, scoring 1.035 points per possession on jumpers, which ranks in the 88th percentile of the league, according to Synergy Sports Technology. His slow, compact three-point stroke found bottom 37% of the time, and 43.6% of the time as a starter. Additionally, he's an underrated offensive rebounder and finisher, scoring 1.269 points per possession (82nd percentile) in offensive rebounding situations this season, again according to Synergy. Watch these early-season highlight reels to see what I mean. What I think sets him apart, though, is that he specializes in the most efficient shots in the game. Numbers from HoopData.com indicate 88.1% of his shot attempts came at either the rim or from behind the three-point line; he doesn't mess around with the mid-range stuff. And though he didn't draw nearly as many fouls this year as he did in his rookie year, by any measure, he converts his free-throw chances as well. 86.6% of them, in fact. The Cliff's Notes version of this paragraph is the dude certainly knows how to put the ball in the basket. Efficiently.
He needs to grow in other areas, however. If Orlando views him as a long-term replacement for Lewis at power forward, and if it intends to run Van Gundy's offense for a long time, he has to become more comfortable throwing entry passes to Howard, especially from the top of the arc. I wouldn't say he's a bad passer, necessarily, but he's not always comfortable throwing the ball inside. One of Orlando's favorite side out-of-bounds sets involves setting Lewis up at the top of the arc for what appears to be a quick three before Lewis dumps the ball in to Howard, who quite often catches his defender napping and manages to flip in a hook before he knows what hit 'im. Anderson? He's a bit more tentative up there.
And in general, passing needs to improve. Carter was the only Magic player to end a higher percentage of Orlando's possessions when he was on the court than Anderson did. That's not a misprint; Anderson used 24.5% of the Magic's possessions in his infrequent time on the floor. I attribute some of that to his role. As the bench's most explosive scorer, he was expected to catch and let fly from long range whenever possible. But his trigger seemed to get quicker as the season progressed, perhaps as a result of losing playing time to Brandon Bass. But I hate playing pop-psychologist, so I'll stop there.
Defensively, Anderson appeared to have a solid grasp on team concepts and, to my eyes, was hardly ever out of position on defense. Where he gets burned is individually, which is another area in which he has a lot of work to do. His lack of athleticism will always hinder him a bit, but he's a bit too eager to bit on shot- and jab-fakes. Power forwards with a face-up game managed to exploit this weakness to great effect.
Overall, Anderson showed flashes of brilliance, and I mean that. He scored in double-figures in 5 of his 6 starts, with the lone exception being a major outlier of a game in which he missed 10 of his 11 three-point attempts. And in back-to-back games in March, he scored 38 points in 43 minutes on 13-of-24 shooting. If he trims his usage a bit, improves his passing, and tightens up defensively, he could be a fringe All-Star within a few more years. Remember, he's only 22, and has plenty of time to improve.
My worry is that he might not get that opportunity in Orlando, which owes Lewis more than $60 million over the next three seasons. Sure, Anderson can count on an uptick in playing time as Lewis ages, but he won't crack 18 minutes per game. Will the Magic have the patience to stick with Anderson? Or will the long-term commitment to Lewis make Anderson expendable? I certainly hope, for the Magic's sake, that they take the former approach. Anderson's a rare talent. Big men who can shoot the three and rebound are valuable commodities in this league, especially surrounding a guy like Howard, who needs some space to work inside. Anderson's the youngest of the players who fit that profile. I mean, compare some of his stats this year to those of Lewis' All-Star campaign last year. Then consider his age. Then try to tell yourself that Anderson doesn't belong.
There are two factors preventing me from giving Anderson an outright A for the seaon: first, he wasn't consistent as his playing time decreased. Second--and this one isn't entirely his fault--he didn't play enough minutes to make a huge impact. But everything else? A solid, solid year that portends a bright future, again, so long as Orlando does itself a solid by letting him stick around.