Room For Improvement: James Anderson


Anderson 1San Antonio Spurs’ James Anderson is a player who has a lot to gain or lose over this off-season. He has the pressure of competing for major minutes with DeSean Butler returning to full health, and the opportunity to gain valuable playing time if he can solidify himself as a reliable back up to Richard Jefferson or even challenge Jefferson for the starting small forward position.

Back in February, I wrote a piece on all three of the San Antonio Spurs’ rookies (Tiago Splitter, Anderson and Gary Neal.) Here is an excerpt on how Anderson was playing before he was injured, six games into the season.

Even more impressive, is looking at his six games in detail. The least he scored was 5pts and he was starting to show defensive skills early.

Vs. Indiana: 10 pts, 1 stl.
Vs. New Orleans: 5 pts, 1 blk.
Vs. Los Angeles Clippers: 8 pts, 1 blk.
Vs. Phoenix: 6 pts, 1 stl, 1 blk.
Vs. Charlotte: 6 pts.
Vs. Los Angeles Clippers: 7 pts.

In the month of November, his stat line looked very productive:

November: 4 GP, 17mpg, 6.8ppg, 43% FG, 54% 3PT.

After rehabbing and spending some time with the Austin Toros during the month of January, Anderson returned to the team in February and posted this stat line:

February:  5 GP, 8.4mpg, 2.2pg, 36% FG, 33% 3PT.

The most points he scored in February would be six against the New Jersey Nets on February 25th. Keep in mind that the team was playing exceptionally well in February, so the rotation was already being formulated. Any minutes Anderson received were usually at the end of blowouts.

Anderson would play in more games during the month of March, but he rarely received meaningful minutes. He scored seven points against the Memphis Grizzlies on March 1, but the result of that game was a Grizzlies win (the Spurs were blown out by 16 points.) His statistical line from March improved a small bit as he received a few more minutes of playing time.

March: 11 GP, 8.5mpg, 2.6ppg, 43% FG, 46% 3PT.

Anderson would go on to score five points in three of his last four games of the season. After completing 26 games in his rookie season, Anderson’s overall stat line looked like this:

10-11’ Season Statistics: 26 Games Played, 11mpg, 3.6ppg, 38% FG, 39% 3PT, 78% FT.

Since I called Anderson, “Mr. Anderson” from ‘the Matrix’ once in a column, I’m going to stick with the Matrix theme. Let’s assume the blue pill is the chance for Anderson to make an impact next season and the red pill is the chance that Anderson could see his opportunity slip away.anderson 2

Blue Pill: Anderson has the physical skill set to make a leap in the NBA. Earlier this week, I hosted a Mega Spurscast with three of our (Project Spurs) writers. One of our writers, Jason Rogers, commented on Anderson; Rogers said Anderson has the skill set to be a scorer in the NBA. Yet, he feels Anderson’s biggest question mark is his defense. Rogers said the reason Anderson is a question mark on defense is because the college game’s defense is predicated on the zone, whereas the NBA is mainly man-to-man. Rogers is a Texas fan, but he watched Anderson play for four years at Oklahoma State. When I was in Austin covering the Toros, several Toros players told me Anderson brought another level of scoring to their team in the few games that he played with them.

The other reason Anderson has the opportunity to make a giant leap is because of the shaky play of Richard Jefferson. Coach Popovich benched Jefferson in the second half of the final game of the playoffs. Jefferson began the season well, but eventually became a non-factor when it mattered most. (Read Trevor Zickgraf’s article on why he feels Jefferson digressed so much.) If Jefferson continues to falter next season and Anderson plays well, Anderson has the opportunity to log more minutes as Jefferson’s backup or even challenge Jefferson for the starting job at the small forward position.

From what I observed in Anderson’s 26 games on offense, he has the ability to knock down the three point shot, create his own jumper with the right-to-left crossover shake and even finish on the fast break (if the Spurs continue the run-and-offense.)

Defensively, Anderson has lengthy arms that can help him in defending passing lanes and blocking shots. As we saw in the first six games of the season, he was making defensive plays with the limited minutes that he was getting. His lateral quickness does seem to be something that he can improve on. If he can find a way to become a defensive stopper, then he and George Hill on the perimeter could become a dangerous defensive duo.

Red Pill: As much as Anderson has to gain next season, there is still a chance he could lose a lot. With DeSean Butler getting ready to compete for some minutes on the wing, Anderson will need to do his best to impress the coaches and his teammates that he deserves a quality spot in the rotation. The Spurs are also looking at several small forwards in the NBA draft; should they draft a small forward and bring him in to challenge Anderson’s spot, then Anderson will have another challenge to try to overcome in making the active squad.

Anderson must do what he can to become a reliable perimeter defender and consistent scorer. Mr. Anderson must decide to take the blue pill or the red pill.


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