(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
What the Orlando Magic got from Ryan Anderson in 2010/11 is roughly the same as what they got the previous season, the 23-year-old's first in Orlando, only better. Anderson remains the Magic's second-most productive/efficient player, on a per-minute basis, trailing only a surefire Hall-of-Famer in Dwight Howard. Note that "second-most productive/efficient" does not necessarily mean "second-best," as Anderson would need to average more than 22 minutes per game to earn that title.
And, I'm sure many folks would argue, being the second-best anything on the Magic, a team which failed to progress out of the first round of the playoffs this season, in a marked regression from each of the last two seasons, isn't exactly noteworthy. Fans on this site sometimes say things like, "If Ryan Anderson is your second-best player, you can't win a championship," for example.
|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-best statistics highlighted in gold; career-worst statistics highlighted in silver.
But back to Anderson: he continued to space the floor, rebound well at both ends of the floor, shoot a bit too often, drain three-pointers, and get beat too easily defensively. He just did the good things a bit more often than he did a year ago. This constitutes progress, in its own way, and for a team otherwise bereft of young talent, it's encouraging.
The next step for Anderson is to add something new. I hate that this observation in professional sports--about any athlete--is so trite, but I do think it applies in Anderson's case. We know he can nail deep threes. We know he's sneakily effective on the offensive glass. He doesn't need to drastically alter his game, but rather augment it to give him a bit more versatility. A dribble-drive element might work, for the point if and when teams recognize he exists and stop leaving him open on the wings. At present, he cannot, or does not, do a helluva lot when chased off the three-point line, though he's shown a nifty spin to the inside for a layup on a few occasions.
As with a lot of young, offensively gifted players, Anderson struggles defensively, though he did improve as a shot-blocker as the season wore on. I wonder how much of it is simply his physical limitations; one can only be so quick, so athletic. At the same time, far less mobile people of similar builds--Nick Collison comes to mind, and not simply because he and Anderson are both white--have become effective low-post defenders due to their ability to take charges.
So: if Anderson adds another element to his offense and continues to progress defensively, he can contribute even more next season. I think he has the potential to bloom into a consistent, efficient, 18-point-and-9-rebound performer.
As for this season, what this post purports to be about? He did well after a rough start, which saw him shift from the starting lineup to the end of the bench on a game-to-game basis at coach Stan Van Gundy's discretion. When Orlando dealt Rashard Lewis in December, Brandon Bass got the full-time starting power forward gig, with Anderson assuming, and subsequently thriving in, the backup role.
Thriving? How? Anderson made at least one triple in 30 straight games this season, the longest such streak in the league. Now, one could argue it's easy to accomplish that feat when one leads the league in three-point tries per minute, as Anderson did. I don't quite see it that way, but it's a reasonable position to take.
With Anderson, and all players, really, evaluation comes down to these two questions:
What is this player's role?
How well did this player fill that role?
When I say "role," I don't mean a simple positional designation, like "backup power forward" or "starting center." Instead, I refer to responsibilities on the court. In this way, we grade players relative to their own abilities and limitations instead of against one another; if we did the latter, Dwight Howard would get an A+ and the rest of the team would be in the toilet. That's not as interesting to read about, or as fair to the other players who are not similarly gifted.
I outline my approach to evaluating here to clear up any confusion that may arise in future evaluations, as I remember this site's readers taking me to task last season for going too easy on Vince Carter.
Where were we?
Anderson's tasks are to space the floor, shoot threes at an acceptable rate, and rebound. He fulfilled those duties well, showed progress from the previous season, and offered hope for the future. For this, he gets high marks; a stronger showing in the postseason would certainly have improved his grade here.