James Anderson makes his NBA debut

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The San Antonio Spurs don’t have much depth at small forward. Amongst the Western Conference’s playoff contenders, strong wing play is a staple. The Lakers boast Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, and Matt Barnes. Oklahoma City can use Thabo Sefolosha in place of Kevin Durant. When the game is on the line, the Blazers have their pick between Nico Batum and Brandon Roy.

The Spurs have Richard Jefferson, whom, you’ll recall, played horribly last season.

Coming into the season, the Spurs’ depth chart at small forward was puzzling, to say the least. Think about it: the Spurs don’t have a single system-experienced player between RJ, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and George Hill. And while Hill and Ginobili will occasionally play small-ball minutes at small forward, everyone understands their minutes in those situations are limited.

Assuming everyone stays healthy, the Spurs must account for some 15-18 minutes per game behind Jefferson. That’s quite a hole to fill, especially when your best competition is splitting those minutes between Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes.

The Spurs’ wing depth chart is completely unproven.

Enter James Anderson.

James Anderson is a rookie. And in his opening game with the San Antonio Spurs, Anderson looked like a rookie. He passed up shots he should have taken, he dribbled into traffic, got lost along the baseline and pulled up his dribble, and, in general, seemed as comfortable as a country bumpkin on his first trip to the Big City.

But it wasn’t all bad. In fact, there were moments when his overalls could have passed for pinstripes. He played well. Surprisingly well.

Anderson was called on for a whopping 27 minutes in his pro debut. Anderson’s stats: 10 points, 4-8, 2-5 for 3, no free throws, an assist and a steal.

What the the stats don’t record is Anderson’s defense. Anderson is not the second coming of Bruce Bowen. But if one game is any measurement, Anderson has the tools to develop into a good defender. More crucially, he has the mentality. Anderson displayed intensity on the defensive end and, generally speaking, stayed in front of his man. Anderson showed more determination than athleticism, and that should be regarded as a compliment.

The Spurs gave up an embarrassing 65 first half points. After the game, Spurs players described Gregg Popovich’s halftime admonishments as colorful, and Tony Parker practically blushed when asked to provide more detail. Whatever he said, it worked. The Spurs made good on their Rule of 22 and held the Pacers to 44 second half points. That, more than the frantic offensive pace, was the story of the game.

And James Anderson had a role in all of it. He was the first wing off the bench, knocked down two timely threes, and played passable defense on Danny Granger during a second half stretch in which Gregg Popovich demanded defense. Taken together, James Anderson could provide the Spurs with unexpected depth at small forward. Not playoff-quality depth, but it’s an encouraging start.

  • ITGuy

    I agree with the post, Anderson will be a great player, hopefully by the end of the regualr season.

    Go Spurs Go!!

  • Pop-a-vich

    Anderson played great vs Indiana. He defended Granger well and was aggressive at the offensive end. He’s gonna be a solid backup at the 3, believe it.

    DRIVE FOR FIVE!!!
    Go Spurs Go!

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    Mr. AAAAnnnnddddeeeerrrrsssssoooon, welcome to the NBA! Nice job of playing through those rookie nerves. He is a very good player and has tools to become even better. This team will start taking on shape once Tiago gets in there as well. The season is off to a great start, now we just need to have a big win against New Orleans to really get a little bit of momentum going in the right direction. GO SPURS GO, DRIVE FOR FIVE!!!!!

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  • DNITCH

    It’s great to see that we are going to get good value from rookie James Anderson, I think he will provide a great spark off the bench much like James Harden of the Thunder. Quick question though, we saw him play a lot at the sf position so does that mean that he wont be a sg at all? Or is he going to be a combo guard?

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Timothy Varner

    DNITCH, He’ll play where there are minutes. Between Hill and Ginobili, most of the sg minutes are taken. Plus, the Spurs need to find space for Gary Neal. SF, on the hand, is a deep pool of availability. I think Anderson will see most of his early season minutes at sf.

  • Hobson13

    I thought it was very interesting to see Anderson play 27 min last night. It is certainly not something I would have expected to see, but Pop must really be high on this rookie and for good reason. I will say that while Anderson got scorched by Granger a number of times on the defensive end, he did show that he has the size and athletic ability to keep up with Danny. He just needs more experience to be able to adjust to a bigger, faster NBA game.

    Along with Anderson’s other mistakes last night, he also left his feet for too many pump fakes. However, all in all, it was a very good learning experience for the rookie to go up against one of the best SFs in the entire league. Obviously, James simply needs more playing time to mature, but he is showing promising signs of being a VERY nice, young player.

    P.S. By contrast to Anderson’s 27 min, Simmons only saw only 6 min of more uninspiring basketball. This is probably another reason why Pop rolled the dice and called the rookie’s number for so long against the Pacers.

  • Tim in Surrey

    Danny Granger is as difficult a check at the small forward spot as any player in the league–including Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony. He’s long, he’s quick, he shoots well off the catch and off the move, inside and out. He can create, post up, or run you through screens until you puke. He’s cut straight from the same mold as Alex English, George Gervin, and Reggie Miller. For a rookie to play that well, in his very first professional game and after missing most of training camp, against a player of Granger’s calibre was a really good sign for the future.

    Pop has always said that it’s on the defensive end that you earn your playing time. We all knew he could score but nobody really knew how he would play on defense, especially as a forward. Based on last night (admittedly a small sample size!), I think James Anderson is going to contribute more to this season than we expected.

    I think I’m going to send his hamstring a thank-you card.

  • Big Guy

    I did not know you could wear overhauls.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Timothy Varner

    Eureka. Thanks. Fixed.

  • mailboogie

    Big Guy are you from the North? Overhauls is southern for overalls.

  • Hunter

    James anderson looked pretty good last night against indiana. 10 pts 2 made from3 and decent defense. there is alot of room to grow but so far for a bench rookie he looked great

  • john

    he does not look like a quality play-off back-up SF right now, after missing most pre-preseason with his injury.

    however, can he become one by the end of the year, especially if he keeps shooting like this?

  • Jim Henderson

    From the main post:

    “James Anderson is a rookie. And in his opening game with the San Antonio Spurs, Anderson looked like a rookie. He passed up shots he should have taken, he dribbled into traffic, got lost along the baseline and pulled up his dribble, and, in general, seemed as comfortable as a country bumpkin on his first trip to the Big City.”

    I do agree that Anderson played like a “rookie”. What I liked is that he played like a rookie with some potential. The one thing we ought to note about Anderson is that he is a “slow burner”. He strikes me as the type of guy that will struggle a bit at first until he gradually migrates his way into a comfort zone. At some point his game could emerge from “lights flickering during a threatened power outage” to an uninterrupted power supply that is merely rationed on occasion.

    As far as defensively, I would rather see Anderson at the SG (although I’m not completely convinced that his lateral quickness is sufficient against the quicker SG’s), but without a revival in sight yet from Mr. Simmons, the b/u SF is where he’s going to get his minutes. And I do think that if Anderson can defend well enough, he could develop into a fine SF. His first night against Granger provided some reason for encouragement. Even so, I still maintain that his max potential is more likely to be reached at the SG (where he can use his size & enormous wingspan to his advantage – needs to develop a post-up game). Hopefully we can shift him there at some point. But I agree with Tim, on this roster as currently constructed he’s likely to see much more action at the SF this year.

  • rob

    What do you expect from a rookie who played 2 guard his entire college career then thrust into nba action as a wing player?

    If you ask me…the kid did a FANTASTIC job being his first nba regular season game and did more than just “ok” defense against an experienced player in Granger.

    If anybody saw the game and noticed the timeout when Pop approached Anderson at mid court and talked to him and then saw the difference in his play after that moment…you’ve got to be excited about this kids potential.

    His defense in the second half against Granger is what helped the Spurs propel themselves into that victory.

    A pretty astonishing feat considering the circumstances and nature of the situation.

    How much better can this kid become? Well if his first game as an nba player in a regular season contest is any indication…he’s going to be really good.

    And I’ve been saying since day one he would be best introduced as a wing player. He’s going to be great…Just wait and watch.

  • td4life

    Here’s the least we can say…

    Chicago is should have picked up JA at 17… he’d START for them. Love how that crazy summer played out in our favor, draft-wise… JA could end up being the #6 talent in the draft this season, baby.
    Considering that all the Bulls picked up this summer is an injured Boozer, I think they made some bad moves. Hinrich and Salmons would both have helped them going forward. I know they needed post scoring, but they cleared all that space to sign 2 guys, so they played that FA thing poorly.
    And for that matter, Tyrus Thomas may be indeed be turning it around now that he has a great teaching coach in his corner, he scored 22 and grabbed 6 in his debut. I was calling hard for going after him at the trade deadline last season.

    The reason I noticed T Thomas’s scoring is that I haven’t gone to sleep on the Mavericks (and watched the game), and though I admit I don’t know what to expect from them, they make me nervous… particularly, b/c of their young PG, and b/c of their length. I was also calling nonstop for Tyson Chandler all spring and summer, and was not happy to see him land just up the highway, where he appears to have replaced Haywood as the starter (unless that was just versus Charlotte). If healthy, he is one of the best PnR defenders you could ever hope to see. I don’t like it.

    Both those guys were traded for loose change; one of those two guys could be in the conversation for MIP.

    I got no support on this site when calling for either of those pickups… but we’ll see how it plays out. I sure hope Blair and Splitter make it look like they don’t need any help down there making life easy peezy for Timmy D.

  • td4life

    I also campaigned that trading our best player, Senor Manu Ginobili, was strictly out of the question, unless you could get a top 5 pick. We have no shot in the near-term wihout him and TD, no shot. Even the Pacer’s game was proof enough. The odds are long and the window closes after next season, but it’s funny that these two guys are actually underrated in today’s NBA hype. (I know every opponent is keying on them big-time come game night, though.)

  • Jim Henderson

    rob
    October 28th, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    “If you ask me…the kid did a FANTASTIC job being his first nba regular season game and did more than just “ok” defense against an experienced player in Granger.”

    Are you quoting with someone with “ok”?

    “And I’ve been saying since day one he would be best introduced as a wing player.”

    He’s best introduced at the wing because he’s playing behind Manu & Hill at the SG, and we don’t have a proven SF back-up. No other reason I can think of.

  • Shawn_b

    JA’ve gave his best effort. He made occasional mistakes and seemed a little tense at times but all in all he is a ROOKIE! A rookie who didn’t play much in Summer League. In addition, the guy he guarded was Granger! one of the top scorer in the NBA. Trust me that’s not an easy duty even for guys named Bowen and Battier. JA is defintely the type of player we need, as well as a puzzle for future !

  • rob

    Jim Henderson

    “He’s best introduced at the wing because he’s playing behind Manu & Hill at the SG, and we don’t have a proven SF back-up. No other reason I can think of.”

    I don’t think (and I could be wrong) that Anderson has been thrust into playing SF based soley on attrition of that spot.

    George Hill’s natural positon was SG…but the Spurs saw potential in him playing the point. In Anderson’s case…I agree…his natural position (or at least what he’s played) has been SG. But he’s got the package to play SF in this league. (He’s even got a lot of Jefferson’s traits when RJ first came into the league. Just not as tall.)

    So…I just don’t think the Spurs only vision of Anderson when they picked him was to be the team’s future starting SG. I think they also believed him to have the attributes to play SF in this league with their system even if the team wasn’t depleted in that position.

  • Tim in Surrey

    td4life – Thanks. It’s funny to imagine just how badly Thibodeau would want to see Anderson in a Bulls uniform right now! It’s actually beyond funny to the point of pathetic to think about Minnesota. They could’ve traded the fourth pick to a team desperate for Cousins (e.g. Detroit) in exchange for a good player AND a high enough pick to get Anderson. And they STILL would’ve had the 15th pick that they traded, bizarrely, for an injured Martell Webster (who isn’t very good even when he’s healthy!). In other words, they probably could have picked up a fairly high lottery pick (e.g., Al-Farouq Aminu, Cole Aldrich, or Ed Davis) AND James Anderson AND a proven player like Jason Maxiell or Will Bynum–or maybe even a young talent like Austin Daye or Jonas Jerebko. Instead they’ve got Wesley Johnson and an injured Martell Webster. That’s astonishing.

  • SAJKinBigD

    @ Alix Babaie: I think the kid needs a nickname! I was already considering this, but given your post above, what does the world think about introducing him as NEO? :) “I know Kung-Fu!”

    @ Tim in Surrey: Astonishing in comparison to a franchise that is properly run, but I don’t think anyone can accuse Minnesota of handling ANYTHING right for some time. I cannot figure out why they make bad decision after bad decision. I’m about ready to put them up there with the Isaiah-run Knicks for ineptitude!

  • td4life

    Tim in Surrey-
    Not only that, Kahn traded Al Jefferson for two late draft picks if not for a Luol Deng, or a Henrich. How about a James Harden or Jeff Green. And the list goes on, without even mentioning packaging Jefferson with the #4, or the #16 pick. (Passing on Cousins is it’s own crime that others made, too.) There are no words to describe that guy Kahn. With that 2nd pick you mentioned, he traded Ty Lawson for it, to draft Luke Babbitt. And then traded Babbitt AND Ryan Gomes for Martel Webster. Wha?! But, hey, that’s how we got our two guard of the future that we didn’t need, aka the backup SF of our present that will do just fine.

    Thibodeau will have his work cut out for him.

    I do think Anderson makes the rookie team this year. Steal of the draft, no question.

  • rob

    td4life

    “Wha?! But, hey, that’s how we got our two guard of the future that we didn’t need, aka the backup SF of our present that will do just fine.”

    And maybe our starting SF of the future.

    Anderson needs to learn some better handles to compete against some of the better SG’s in this league. His handles now don’t detour him from playing the SF spot right now. But suffice enough to play against most of the top SF in this league.

    Not to say he wouldn’t ever become the SG of the future. It would all depend on the future talent the Spurs acquire. If the Spurs end up getting a really good 1/2 combo type of player that wouldn’t be good at the wing…Anderson probably continues to play SF since his talent set is that of a 2/3 combo. And the same could be said if the Spurs land a really good 3/4 player. Anderson probably plays the 2.

  • td4life

    Rob,

    Fair point. We could easily see a season or two with George Hill as the Spurs primary two guard… it all depends upon not only on how these guys develop and on what talent we get down the line, but for that matter, who we keep and who we trade in the next era… I overstated the situation. Malik, Antonio Daniels, Derek Anderson, Stephen Jackson were all let go… we have no idea what will become of JA as a Spur. So it will be even more interesting to see how much value he adds to this team this year and next.

  • mac

    The ugly truth is that that Miami team will have plenty of chemistry come playoff time.

    The even uglier truth is that they will have the biggest points differential in the league… a stat thay usually translates into rings. As a Spurs fan, I hate to see other teams build their identity around defense, and in that regard I don’t like the Heat’s potential, not even a little bit.

    On the other hand, we are undefeated and they aren’t.

  • mac

    posted the above in the wrong thread, talking about the Heat. Sorry.

  • rob

    Gotta love the humbleness of this young man.

    http://www.nba.com/spurs/multimedia/101028_anderson.html