After looking at Jrue's performance at the quarter mark of the season, we're going to look at the performance of the other third of my supposed Pelicans core of Jrue/Anderson/AD, Ryan 'flamethrower' Anderson.
In order to understand the magnitude of Ryan Anderson's performance this season, lets start with something that hopefully people haven't forgotten yet -- the loss of Anderson's longtime girlfriend, Gia Allemand. That's a really big loss and one that Anderson will never forget (for reasons we won't talk today, maybe ever). It is without a doubt such a tough loss that it may haunt Anderson well beyond this season. As much as we talk about players in an (x,y) setting, they are not some points in a coordinate, rather emotional beings whose performances are affected by off-the-court issues. This somber reminder should further highlight how well his season has gone as Anderson has found the strength to channel his best season yet.
Yes, I think this is his best season as a pro and it's not even up for debate. Hardwood Paroxysm's Jack Winter has some great points here (a definite read for all Anderson fans). I'd like to expand on it more and add a couple more discussion points.
As a brief introduction, this is Anderson's career statistics so far.
As you can see, most of his statistics (with the exception of his rebounding percentage) come off as career highs. Granted, we're comparing whole season metrics to a 12-game sample but the point still remains. It's pretty clear what type of stereotype Anderson's been holed up into - a shooter. And for most people, his value proposition is no different than say Kyle Korver (holds NBA record for most consecutive games with at least 1 3PT and shoots 42.2 percent for his career on 6 attempts per 36). But as Zach Lowe succinctly points out:
Anderson isn't just a stretch power forward. He's an accurate quick-release, high-volume gunner who happens to be large enough to play power forward. There's a difference.
He's more akin to Robert Horry (integral componenet to the Shaq/Kobe era), if he shot just as many 3PT shots as Kyle Korver. The last part is important, the "who happens to be large enough to play power forward" part, because it allowed Dell to pursue someone like Tyreke (a player who can't shoot to save his life) and can, in spurts, play him with Aminu (a plus defender and rebounder who can't also shoot to save his life). To understand RyNo's place in history, this is a list of all the players who attempt more than 6 3PT shots per game and make 38 percent of those and are 6'9" and above. Only three players have done what Anderson is doing right now in the history of the NBA, two huge small forwards.
Now, why is that last part important?
Shooters Help Slashers Slash
If you remember last year, in one of my "Staturday" post, I decided to look at the relationship between shooters and slashers. It's not conclusive yet there was a trend that was present in all of the teams but slashers shoot more in the paint when they play with shooters. This year isn't any different, just look at the Pelicans.
|Player||%0-3 ft (without Anderson)||%0-3 ft (with Anderson)||0-3 ft FG% (without Anderson)||0-3 ft FG% (with Anderson)|
Take note, those are in equal amounts of possessions.
As you can see, not only the amount of shots near the paint increase but their conversion rate also goes WAY up. In fact, with Anderson the Pelicans have scored 120 points per 100 (allowing 115). Without him? It becomes 104.6 points per 100 (allowing 108.5 points per 100). As bad as our defense has been (and that's largely a team wide reason with mistimed blitzes and weakside overhelping), our offense has been able to keep pace thanks to Anderson.
For as much as Anderson helps us with his actual shooting (the guy has made 45.5 percent of his almost 8 3PT attempts per game), he still doesn't get much fanfare. That's Stephen Curry level, his more celebrated cousin in the 'high volume 3PT shooter' family.
As an offensive weapon, Ryan Anderson is about as dangerous as, dare I say, a top 30 player. I'm not talking about creating points off touching possessions. Clearly, Anderson's dribbling and post moves are not Top 20 material, it won't even crack Top 50. But as an offensive weapon being used as a decoy, safety valve and a tertiary scorer? He's perfect.
He's performed it admirably in his final two seasons in Orlando (behind Turkoglu and Howard) and he's doing it now (behind Jrue and Gordon). Like Tyson Chandler, another cousin from the 'intangible' family tree, just having Anderson standing around in the corner or top of the key allows the Pelicans to operate 4-on-4 or risk having a career 38 percent three point shooter (on a massive sample size) torch you and score about 3 points every other possession. And if you play any sort of meaningless basketball, it's easier to play 4-on-4 than 5-on-5. There's only so many places 5 players and 5 opponents can position on the court and still allow even a sliver of vision of the rim.
Let's stop talking about his 'intangibles' part and move onto what Anderson actually does. He uses approximately 23 percent of our team's possessions when he's on the court, a number that has actually gone up (24.3 percent) since the Brow broke his hand several weeks ago.
Of those 23 percent, 5 percent of the time it results in a turnover. The other 95 percent results in Anderson scoring 1.2 points per possession (i.e. his true shooting percentage). Remember, "used" possessions are counted in two categories: true shooting attempts (which is basically field goal attempts and an estimate of how many possessions you used to get your free throws) and turnovers. That means each time Anderson uses a possession, he gets us 1.14 points each time (1.2*95% + 0*5%).
As a spacer, no one combines volume and efficiency better than Anderson. According to SportsVU data, Anderson takes 8 CNS (catch-and-shoot) attempts per game, 7 of which are three point shots (both lead the league by a small margin). He is second to only Korver in effective field goal percentage on 1 more attempt per game. The guy that comes closest to matching Anderson in terms of volume and efficiency is Klay Thompson ,a player much more celebrated as a member of the "Splash Bros Inc".
Not Just a Shooter
But one thing people forget about Anderson is that he's more than just a shooter. He's more than just a volume 3PT shooter. He's a big man and one big part of being a big man is rebounding. Now, some of you may look at the raw data and say "HOLY SHIT, ANDERSON IS BAD". And he is. His rebounding splits are bad for a big man (8/10/9, when the big man standard is 10/20/15). But what's lost in context is how much Anderson works on the glass.
Here is a list of all the players who've played at least 12 games and who average 5 rebounds per game. Look who the guy at number one is. Surprised?
Look, Anderson was never a good defensive rebounder. He's a below average defensive rebounder. Heck, as much as I love RyNo, I'll say it -- he's a bad defensive rebounder. All the signs point to it: He gets repeatedly pushed out of position despite boxing out and when he does get beaten to a spot, he doesn't have anything in the way of "physical" gifts to compensate for it. The fact that the Pels rebound the opponent's misses better (75.1 vs 72.6) when Anderson is off the court is telling (I checked -- he played almost the same amount of minutes with our good rebounders and without them as of this writing). All this without even mentioning his putrid 11 percent defensive rebounding rate.
But one thing that Anderson does well is score off a teammates miss. I've never seen anyone who tirelessly works on the offensive glass as much as Anderson. His offensive rebounding rate might not be among the best (it's actually 35th among players who average 24+ MPG and played 12 games), but no one fights for offensive rebounds like Anderson. In this sense, he's more Kevin Love than anything. Love is more powerful and more athletic, but in terms of desire, both are unmatched in this area. It's one of the reasons why Anderson is the league leader in contested rebounding percentage (I'd venture a guess that most of those are from the offensive glass). It's one of the reasons why the Pels rebound more of their misses (30.7 vs 26.3) when he's on the court. It's one of the reasons why Anderson scored on ALL of the offensive rebounds he got from other teammates and makes ~65% of the rebounds he gets from his own misses.
Ryan Anderson is more than just a shooter and this is supported by the eye test. Watch videos of the team when Anderson is on the court. Watch how much space is created with Anderson in the game. He rebounds well on the offensive glass despite his limitations.
Ryan Anderson as Batman
Is Ryan Anderson a Top 50 player? According to ESPN's NBA Rank, he's not. He's barely scratching 50 (with a few others having overtaken him).
Even if I don't ignore my biases, I don't believe Ryan Anderson is a Top 50 player. He's incredibly flawed as a defensive weapon: provides nothing out of the ordinary and is usually caught off position on defensive rebounds and post ups. He's not quick and is not laterally gifted which means he won't be changing any ball screen defense or guarding perimeter players in the perimeter any time soon. He can be hidden in a defensive scheme, but it requires a strong set of core principles coupled with ace defending teammates.
But as an offensive weapon, Anderson is Top 50 (maybe even Top 30) material. He's not as flashy as a lot of "scorers" that people are enamored with, nor is he as "crafty" in the post, as most of the other players in my Top 30. Rather he's the invisible guy (despite his offensive brilliance). You watch the game time and again and wonder "why the hell is this guy open so much?" It's not because he's being given that shot. It's because that's who he is. He's not Spiderman flipping in midair, doing vomit-inducing attack sequences that make you wonder why he's not the most awesome superhero in the galaxy. Instead, think the Dark Knight: lurching in the shadow, ready to strike when the city needs him, forever ready with his arsenal of largely unnoticeable weapons that wreak havoc when used. When all is said and done, the only thing you'll see from the Dark Knight is a light that penetrates the dead of the night when called upon. That's it.
Is he the one we need? To quote Commissioner Gordon (adjusting it to the basketball setting, of course):
He's the player we deserve but not that one we need right now. So the world will continue under-appreciating him. Because he can take it. Because he's not our hero. He's a silent assassin from deep. A watchful protector of our team's misses. A Dark Knight.