The San Antonio Spurs have a way with draft picks. This much history has taught us.
On Thursday, the organization selected UCLA's Kyle Anderson with the 30th overall pick. General manager R.C. Buford may have struck gold once again. It's not just his ability to find talent; it's his ability to find the right fit.
Earlier this month, there had already emerged something of a consensus that Anderson would be the right fit this time. The former Bruin took notice.
So what makes Anderson such a steal?
Let's start with the numbers, because to a large degree, they speak for themselves. Last season, the 20-year-old averaged 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.8 steals.
That's called stuffing the stat sheet.
Anderson was something of a point-forward for the Bruins, running the team's offense and using his size at 6'8" to see over most defenders. That translated into exceptional distribution.
DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony wrote:
What makes Anderson truly special is his prodigious passing ability, which made him one of the most entertaining players to watch in all of college basketball. He led all prospects in our Top-100 rankings in assists at 7.4 per-40 minutes pace adjusted, the highest rate of any player that size in our database since Evan Turner, Luke Walton, and John Salmons.
Givony describes Anderson as, "arguably the most unique prospect in this draft class, with an unprecedented combination of passing, rebounding, 3-point shooting percentage and basketball IQ."
Don't look now, but the book on Anderson makes him sound an awful lot like the perfect cog in the Spurs' system. In fact, he sounds an awful lot like Boris Diaw.
Not convinced by the numbers or the hearsay? Consider what Anderson accomplished against the No. 4 overall selection Aaron Gordon when UCLA played Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament. SBNation's Ricky O'Donnell recounts:
Gordon might be regarded as the best defender in the 2014 draft, but he had no answer for Bruin sophomore Kyle Anderson. The point guard/forward/whatever finished at the rim on his signature slow-motion drives. He hit three-pointers over hard closeouts. He snatched rebounds over more explosive athletes and picked out open shooters across the court with pinpoint passes. When it was over, Anderson had 21 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and a fistful of nylon from cutting down the nets.
O'Donnell concludes, "What he lacks in explosiveness and position purity he more than makes up for with versatility and basketball IQ."
That's a virtue league-wide, universally—but it takes on an altogether exceptional level of importance for a team like San Antonio.
It's no secret that the Spurs privilege ball movement over virtually all else. It's no secret that this team thrives because of its players' collective unselfishness. But it's more than that. It's a matter of smart ball movement—making the right decisions with the ball.
Diaw has succeeded in this system not simply on account of his willingness to pass, but because he makes sound passes to the correct targets.
This is what execution means to the Spurs. It's the difference between winning a championship and being just another one of the NBA's many aspirational teams.
San Antonio's system revolves largely around reacting to what defensive sets give it. How teams defend the pick-and-roll, for example, dictates what Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili ultimately does with the ball. That's not especially unique to the Spurs, but their improvisational success has been a big part of their broader success.
That's where that basketball IQ comes into play. Anderson will eventually be tasked with reading defenses and making decisions, running an offense that's far more sophisticated than what they were doing at UCLA.
By all accounts, he'll evolve into a player who can do just that.
"I think the game of basketball is played within three dribbles," Anderson said in May (per O'Donnell). "If by that third dribble I don't have anything, I like to give up the ball."
That sounds like a line ripped straight out of Popovich's isolation-averse philosophy.
It certainly doesn't hurt that he's also skilled in a variety of respects. That versatility was one of the primary reasons head coach Gregg Popovich eventually inserted Diaw into the starting lineup during the 2014 NBA Finals. His team didn't just need a jolt—it needed another facilitator, another floor spacer and someone who could defend multiple positions.
It's not hard to imagine Anderson one day sliding into a similar role.
Popovich is notoriously skeptical of giving rookies big minutes. And that makes sense. The Spurs are here to win now. They're not in rebuilding mode just yet, and they haven't been especially predisposed to allotting minutes toward the cultivation of young prospects.
That's what the Development League is for. Or in San Antonio's case, that's why so many of the organization's picks spend their formative years polishing their games overseas.
Anderson may be more NBA-ready than your average late-first-round pick, but there won't be any pressure on him to produce from day one. He'll initially be tasked with watching San Antonio's schemes up close, learning how he'll fit into the league's model franchise once it begins coming back down to earth with the eventual retirements of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.
When that day comes, Anderson's time to shine won't be far behind.
He's especially intriguing when considered in conjunction with small forward Kawhi Leonard. Though they ostensibly play the same position, they're actually quite compatible on the wing.
Leonard does a lot of things well, but he's not yet an exceptional passer. He does his best work when catching the ball, either shooting right away or penetrating to the basket. Anderson's versatility may take some of the pressure off of Leonard to be that jack-of-all-trades, allowing him instead to focus on scoring the ball (and, of course, defending the other team's best player on the other end of the floor).
The rest of San Antonio's future roster will take shape in time. It could very well include previously drafted foreign prospects like Livio Jean-Charles and Davis Bertans. And given San Antonio's wealth of cap room in 2015, it might even boast an established star or two.
Whatever takes shape, there's a good chance Anderson will fit in just fine.
Buford and Co. wouldn't have it any other way.