Product of the Times
USA Today Sports
Ryan Anderson came into Monday’s night game shooting the ball at a high rate. His three point percentage was an outstanding 53.8%, boosted by a strong 7-11 performance against the Knicks on Saturday. And against the Bulls, he did more of the same. While posting that same exact 7-11 line in the three point column, he came up with a few key offensive rebounds, and knocked down some crucial shots from the post to put the icing on the cake. In his first start in a post-Anthony Davis world, he somehow played at this high level while being on the floor for an exhausting 57 minutes. The Pelicans wouldn’t have escaped with a win, and conceivably he is the team’s best player while the Brow sits out with a broken hand.
Anderson is a product of the times. He was a cast off by the Nets in the trade that purged themselves of Vince Carter’s salary for a budding Courtney Lee. That was in 2009, only four years ago, and the view on how valuable Ryan was as a commodity was noticeably different then. As a weak athlete, his ceiling wasn’t thought to be very high. He was going to be able to knock down open jumpers when needed, but at that time it was hard to gauge what that would mean to a team coming from the power forward position.
In his first season in Orlando, he didn’t see much time. Yet he had a window to what his future role was going to entail. Rashard Lewis was playing the four for the Dwight Howard led team, a squad that felt the impact of that season’s Defensive Player of the Year to the amount that they could afford to pass on having a second player that was skilled in defending the post. This proved to be successful, as the cycle of Dwight feeding of his shooters and vice-versa soon became a potent ecosystem for offensive success.
Lewis’ salary soon became too much for his value however, and Orlando soon dealt him in the trade that infamously landed a tattered Gilbert Arenas. The Magic deployed Brandon Bass for about half a season, but him lacking the marksmanship that Rashard featured ended up eating away at the offensive efficiency. Anderson finally got his chance to shine in the final games in 2010-11, and he rode the Magic’s inside-out scheme to a Most Improved Player award in 2011-12.
That off-season however, the Dwightmare was finally lifted from Orlando. The organization also canned Stan Van Gundy — a coach that was praised for making the most out of Anderson, who was viewed as a less physically gifted player — so the acclaimed offensive philosophy Ryan thrived in was gone. Orlando’s management bought into the belief that Anderson’s production was only fall-out from the defensive attention Howard brought, and subsequently exchanged him for a cheaper Gustavo Ayon.
Yet the Hornets saw the value of the stretch-four. With new franchise centerpiece Anthony Davis coming in, they saw the opportunity to create a similar offensive nirvana to Orlando. Opposing team’s were stuck in a catch twenty-two, either get vacuumed in by the prolific Brow and potentially give up the three, or leave Anthony close to the hoop in a one-on-one situation.
New Orleans soon found out that Anderson didn’t need a destructive center to survive, as Ryno could conjure up quality shots on his own. In Ethiopia there are men who have the ability to carve beautiful buildings in the side of a mountain with a pickax. Such a large stone formation is suppose to remain blank until mother nature decides shake things up. Somehow though, these men are able to forge the slate into planned formation they had already designed in their head. The process in Ryan’s ability to carve a niche in a seemingly plain mountainside mirrors that.
Anderson isn’t the first stretch-four, and he won’t be the last. Monty Williams, Stan Van Gundy, and Ryan himself all had parts in making him reach a ceiling that is higher up in the air than we ever imagined. The coaches had to put him in the right places, and Ryan had to go out and acquire the ability to fight for every inch of the floor to create spot-up attempts. Acquiring the capacity to slip screen, and the intelligence to pick the right place to be while trailing on screens has opened up the game for Anderson. Regardless of what front-court mate is running up and down the floor with him.
He didn’t change the game, but Ryan Anderson continues to solidify one of basketball’s budding theories created in the space age of advanced metrics. Draft experts will soon be looking for the next of his kind, and that is an accomplishment for a former outcast.