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Regarding Ryan Anderson, the Orlando Magic's "Other" Newest Player

The Orlando Magic made one of the most significant trades in franchise history on Thursday when they dealt Rafer Alston, Tony Battie, and Courtney Lee to the New Jersey Nets for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson. Since then, this site has analyzed how the deal affects the Magic on the floor and in the ledger; bid a fond farewell to Lee, one of the most popular Magic players in recent memory; and generally defended the trade, and Carter in particular. What it hasn't done is take a close enough look at Anderson, the 21-year-old power forward whom the Nets selected just one pick ahead of Lee in the 2008 draft. Although we briefly touched on how he can help the Magic in the "ledger" post, it's time he had one to himself.

I've described Anderson, a 6'10" power forward with three-point range, as a Brian Cook-lite. Turns out that comparison isn't so flattering. DraftExpress lists Cook as Anderson's "worst-case" comparison, saying instead his ceiling is that of Troy Murphy. If he ever develops into a Murphy-like player, the Magic will be ecstatic. Murphy quietly had an excellent 2008/09 season, with per-game averages of 15.1 points and 12.5 boards on 47.5% shooting from the field and 45.0% from three-point range. Based on Anderson's rookie statistics--he averaged 7.4 points, 4.7 boards, 39.3% overall, 36.5% from three--one might get the impression that he'll never reach that potential. But consider that his per-36-minute productivity, and shooting percentages, exceed those Murphy posted as a rookie, and the prospect of his development becomes that much more encouraging. Here are the data:

Per-36-minute Productivity and Shooting Percentages for Ryan Anderson and Troy Murphy as NBA Rookies
Player Age Season Pts/36 Rebs/36 FG% 3FG% FT% eFG% TS%
Anderson 20* 08/09 13.4 8.5 39.3% 36.5% 84.5% 47.8% 53.2%
Murphy 21 01/02 11.9 8.0 42.1% 33.3% 77.6% 42.4% 48.8%
* Anderson was 20-years-old his entire rookie season, not turning 21 until nearly 3 full weeks after the season ended

For Magic fans who are still dubious about the trade, and there are many of them, perhaps the above table will provide reassurance that Anderson could be a long-term building block for the team. Most local critics of the trade cite the loss of Lee as yet another instance of the Magic giving up (giving up on?) a promising, young player. Historically, it's true that the Magic have gotten rid of young players in roster moves meant to bring in proven talent, and in that respect I understand fans' frustration. On August 3rd, 2000, the Magic shuffled their roster to make room for Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady in one of the biggest NBA free-agent signing sprees in history. The Magic renounced the rights to Chauncey Billups, then 23, who played no games for Orlando due to injury. They also dealt Chucky Atkins and Ben Wallace, both 25 and who missed only 1 game between them during the prior season, to Detroit for Hill. This situation is a bit different. Indeed they have parted with a 23-year-old, starting-quality shooting guard. But let's not forget they got a 21-year-old, developing, rotation-quality power forward out of the deal.

Again, I can't emphasize Anderson's age enough. A guy hitting 36.5% of his three-pointers may not sound impressive. But let's apply some parameters to that: how many NBA rookies, 6'09" or taller, who were 20 when their first season started, attempted at least 100 treys and connected on them at such a rate? In other words, how many tall, young dudes could stroke the long-ball like Anderson can? Answer: not many. The list is, in its entirety, Anderson, Rudy Gay, Ersan Ilyasova, Lamar Odom, and Tim Thomas. Looking at it a different way, only 15 NBAers 6'09" or taller shot as well from three-point range last season. Second-year phenom Kevin Durant and Anderson were the only ones younger than 22 to do it. This kid is for real, at least offensively.

Thing is, the league should have seen it coming. Woody Wommack of Orlando Magic Daily, a self-proclaimed "notorious Pac-10 homer and native of the West Coast," elaborates on Anderson's collegiate career:

A look at Anderson's stats from his sophomore season at Cal in 2007-08 really tell the story. During the season Anderson led the Pac-10 in scoring, putting up 21.1 ppg while averaging 9.9 rpg.

Some of the other top players in the conference during the 2007-08 season? O.J. Mayo, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez and Jerryd Bayless. All players that went in the top 11 picks of last year's draft.

Now I ackowledge that Anderson has work to do. He can't continue to have 30% of his inside shots rejected if he hopes to eventually reach the bar Murphy set for jump-shooting power forwards. And his defense is a bit suspect at this point in his career. But he has at least 15 years of NBA ball in him, so there's no shortage of time in which for him to hone his skills.

Everyone bemoaning the loss of Lee, I hear you. I haven't made my appreciation for Lee a secret around these parts. But we should not forget to acknowledge that Anderson is probably just as good a player, albeit at a different position and in a different way, as Lee, and he's three years younger. For his inclusion in the deal, I believe we can cut GM Otis Smith some slack.