The San Antonio Spurs' Kyle Anderson may just be the most fascinating rookie in the NBA next season, if only because there's virtually never been a player quite like him—a 6'8” point guard with wonderful court vision and a near total lack of athleticism.
Perhaps the best player comparison comes from Dean Demakis of DeanonDraft.com, who had this to say about Anderson in June:
Anderson is likely the weirdest prospect in the draft. Every time I try to think really hard about what he’ll become in the NBA, I come up completely blank. He’s pretty much LeBron James if LeBron was doughy and required to move in slow motion at all times.
You've hit the weird jackpot when “doughy Lebron James” can be considered an accurate player comparison.
Anderson, who the Spurs selected 30th overall in the 2014 draft, posted a 34.3 percent assist rate at UCLA last season, per Sports-Reference. Only five players in NBA history listed at 6'8” or taller have hit the same benchmark—LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady and Jalen Rose—and Anderson doesn't have half the athleticism those guys do.
All that strangeness makes it tough to nail down a prediction for Anderson's first NBA season, and to be quite honest, it's likely that even the Spurs—so good at drafting and developing talent to fit specific needs—don't quite know what they have in him at this point.
Keeping that in mind, the most reasonable expectation for Anderson's rookie season is nothing more than simple experimentation. Anderson has no clear cut position at the next level, but he'll probably settle into a role as a playmaking guard or a hybrid 3-4 (Spurs general manager R.C. Buford compares him favorably to Boris Diaw), and the Spurs will certainly try him out at multiple spots.
Due to Patty Mills' shoulder injury, Anderson has the chance to steal minutes at guard immediately, and he creates some bizarre mismatches when he's on the ball. Anderson's height gives him the ability to throw unobstructed passes almost anywhere on the floor, which could be particularly deadly in conjunction with the Spurs' frantic off-ball movement.
Anderson will also be able to bully some guards down on the block. He's not a deadly post player by any stretch of the imagination, and he'll have to get much stronger to really take advantage of his height in that sense.
But defenses are forced to bend in uncomfortable ways anytime a 6'8” player is posting up a much smaller guard, and Anderson is a clever enough passer to take advantage of any seams that may open up as a result of that.
With that being said, Anderson's lack of athleticism could really hamper him as a true shot-creator at the next level.
Only 26 percent of Anderson's shots came at the rim last season, per hoop-math.com, nearly the lowest rate on UCLA's entire roster. Struggling to get to the rim against college athletes does not bode well for his shot-creating future, and as great a weapon as his height is, it's not going to help much if he can't get by anyone at the next level.
That problem multiplies if Anderson isn't effective from deep. He shot 48 percent from three last season, but on just 58 attempts, a seemingly fluky jump from his 21 percent shooting two years ago. If defenders can consistently go under screens against him, he'll struggle to beat just about anyone off the dribble, and his defender will muck up a lot of passing lanes.
None of that's to say that Anderson can't someday be a decent shot-creator, but it's certainly hard to see him being really effective right out of the gate. For that reason alone, he may fit better in that stretch 4 mold, or at the very least, as an off-ball wing.
Anderson may be slow, but he is very skilled offensively and could replicate a lot of the sets the Spurs run with Diaw in the high post. Plus, the Spurs have a nasty habit of making dangerous weapons out of players without much off-the-bounce juice.
Kawhi Leonard, for example, rarely gets after defenses off the dribble. Last season, Leonard generated just 2.5 points per 48 minutes off of drives (defined as any touch that starts at least 20 feet of the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop), ranking fifth among the Spurs' rotation players.
Leonard isn't a particularly poor off-the-bounce player; San Antonio has just optimized the way he attacks the basket. His rim assaults typically start with him off the ball, looping around screens for give-and-gos or finding small lanes that open up from the Spurs' brand of controlled chaos.
In function, a lot of this stuff is similar to a pick-and-roll that starts at the free-throw line rather than the top of the arc. That kind of jump start into the teeth of the defense is exactly what Anderson needs. Once he's on the move in the paint, he causes havoc as a playmaker and even as a scorer (though he'll likely struggle at first against NBA athleticism and length at the rim).
His only real problem is getting there, and the Spurs' sideline-to-sideline movement could make it a whole lot easier for him. Once again, Anderson's shooting has to hold up for him to be really effective, but he has the potential to be a really unique frontcourt weapon offensively.
The knock on Anderson as a big is his defense, and it's definitely a valid concern. He's going to be a poor defender no matter where he plays, but frontcourt defense is extremely important, and the thought of him going toe-to-toe with say, Blake Griffin, is laughable.
This is where the Diaw comparisons stop making sense. Diaw is a good athlete and a versatile enough defender to make playing only one of Tim Duncan or Tiago Splitter palatable. That's not the case for Anderson.
He's lengthy, which at least puts him a tier above Matt Bonner as a rim-protector (for what that's worth) and makes it possible for him to gum up some passing lanes and force deflections. But that's his only real tool, and he's almost certain to be a massive minus on that end, even if he's hidden on an opponent's worst offensive wing.
Defense is the one thing that could hold Anderson back from seeing any real time this season. Given the Mills injury and San Antonio's penchant for resting its veterans, he would have to be truly terrible to not deserve some burn, but to be honest, that's well within the realm of possibility.
It's going to take a lot of experimentation to find where Anderson fits, but if any team can make it work, it's the Spurs. The prediction here is an up-and-down rookie year, at the end of which Anderson carves out a defined role for himself.
Statistically, something like this looks about right.
Anderson will likely be equal parts maddening and supremely entertaining next season. But given the Spurs track record when it comes to drafting and developing talent, he should end up being an important cog in the San Antonio machine for years to come.
All statistics accurate as of 8/11/2014 and courtesy of NBA.com unless specifically stated otherwise.
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