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Ryan Anderson, Faulty Flamethrower?

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Since Anderson's back surgery, his production is down, and it's been the most glaring when the team has needed him to shoulder the load on the road.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

In what might end up being a sick, cruel twist of fate, Monty Williams found himself in need of at least several good games from Ryan Anderson during the Pelicans last road trip. Ryno came through once, against the Detroit Pistons, but was noticeably absent in the other four games. This wasn't the first time neither, as for this season, he is averaging an anemic 34.5 FG% and 27.1 3FG% on the road.

Heartbreak

Rewind back to August 2013 -- Anderson's life was flipped upside down in a single instance when he discovered his girlfriend had taken her own life. His world and everything he knew was shattered. There to console him was his friend, mentor and head coach, Monty Williams. From the initial aftermath through the entire ill-fated night through countless of other times, Monty has had his back and then some.

As they drove in silence, Williams kept thinking that it was fine if he blew a game, but he couldn’t mess up now. Once home, he huddled with his wife, Ingrid, and Ryan in the family room, praying. Ingrid’s brother had committed suicide recently. She knew not to say it was going to be O.K., because it wasn’t. "This is going to be hard for a long time," she told Ryan.

...

Around 1 a.m., at Ingrid’s urging, Monty brought one of his sons’ mattresses down to the living room. There the two men lay through the night, Ryan curled on the sofa and his coach on the floor next to him. When Ryan wanted to talk, they talked. Otherwise there was only his muted sobbing. Finally, just after the sun came up, Ryan fell into a fitful sleep.

Sports Illustrated (If by chance you missed this article upon release, do yourself a favor and give it a read. One of my favorite magazine pieces I've ever read.)

Then, not 5 months later, Anderson again faced having to handle massive trauma, this time through personal injury.

That hit by Gerald Wallace resulted in an anterior cervical discectomy and Anderson's season ended prematurely. The diagnosis was 4-6 months, and expectations were he'd be 100% ready for this season.

As I mentioned back in June, these type of injuries and subsequent surgeries are not open and shut cases. Peyton Manning admits he hasn't been the same player since his spinal fusion surgery, and he's had to adjust to a new normal.

"I'm not at a 100 percent compared to what I was before my surgery,'' Manning said during his segment. "But I have made strides each season and this year felt a lot better than I did the year before. These nerves just go at their own pace.''

Manning also referred to his recovery, including the difficulty in dealing with the fact many who had similar surgeries said it would be difficult to predict how quickly or how much the nerve in his arm would regenerate, but that he could simply wake up one day feeling better than ever.

Isn't it conceivable Ryan Anderson isn't back to his 100% pre-injury levels?

The Statistics

Through Synergy Sports, we're able to see just how much Anderson's shot has slipped this season.

Season Offensive Ranking Percentile PPP Spot-Up Ranking Percentile Three FG%
2010-11 96% 1.091 87% 39.3%
2011-12 98% 1.106 87% 39.3%
2012-13 85% 1.013 81% 38.2%
2013-14 96% 1.079 95% 40.9%
2014-15 75% .985 47% 34.2%

After being classified by their system as an excellent offensive player and spot-up shooter via points per possession for four straight seasons, 2014-15 is poised to snap the trend. Thanks to his propensity for the long ball, Synergy still considers Anderson a very good offensive producer, but in the spot-up department, he is now merely average.

Perenially, he's been regarded as one of the NBA's best shooters. Thus, for a player in his prime, and considering we're half way through a season for sufficient sample size purposes, warning bells should be sounding loudly and clearly.

Delving deeper, Anderson's home/away splits are glaring for the first time in five seasons.

Season Home FG% Home 3FG% Away FG% Away 3FG%
2010-11 42.0% 38.3% 44.2% 40.5%
2011-12 45.0% 40.5% 42.6% 38.0%
2012-13 44.0% 38.5% 40.6% 38.0%
2013-14 40.6% 38.7% 46.2% 42.7%
2014-15 48.3% 43.9% 35.4% 27.1%

Theory

After perusing countless of articles and forums, I've developed a theory that Anderson's muscle memory is behaving differently -- namely he doesn't have the same amount of feel as it did prior to his injury. Just as in Manning's case, Anderson is having trouble recapturing his old comfort zone.

At the Smoothie King Center, he has been able to put up countless of shots most weeks. However, on the road, he only has a limited amount of time to groove his stroke on a foreign rim. Most nights, he has proven unable to find the necessary touch. Thus, repetition in the same surroundings has helped him overcome whatever is ailing him away from New Orleans.

The discrepancy has also been furthered by the eye test. How many times can you remember too many of his shots not looking right? For instance, I can recall numerous instances over the last several months of David Wesley remarking Anderson's shot having some kind of issue. Whether it's too flat, off-center, you name it.

So, at best, Ryan Anderson doesn't have his legs. Having already played more than 400 minutes more than last season, it wouldn't be surprising if his conditioning is partially to blame. When traveling on the road, a lack of stamina becomes a larger issue. Sleeping in foreign beds, eating a different diet or the loss of freedom in daily life, might be contributing negatively. At worst, we're looking at physically issues stemming from his awful spine injury last January.

Perfect Storm

Ryan Anderson desperately wants to have all of our backs, especially Monty's. However, he was unable to do so in our three most recent road losses to the Celtics, Sixers and Knicks, as evidenced by a 22.2 FG% and a 27.3 3FG%. Without Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday for most of the action, Anderson was asked to shoulder an even greater load, but he couldn't come through. Not even close.

When you play basketball long enough, Williams believes, your body becomes accustomed to doing certain things at certain times of the year.

Unfortunately, this line taken from the aforementioned SI article failed to take into account injuries affecting the nervous system. All most fans see are three losses to the bottom three teams of the Eastern Conference, with Monty smack dab in the center of it. I see a frustrated Ryan Anderson who is still in search of the consistent magical touch he once possessed before Gerald Wallace nearly ended his career.

When Ryan Anderson is on, he's an amazing difference maker and vital to our team's success. Last season, Hardwood Paroxysm were one of the few who saw through the narrative and saw the real truth.

It goes without saying, but Anderson’s value to New Orleans is much more than quantitative. His mere threat as marksman coaxes defenses into layered concessions that directly spark those drastic improvements from the Pelicans offense.

If asked, I'd bet Anderson would trade his right arm for a couple more wins, but it doesn't work that way. Instead, he must now watch the fan base continue to clamor for one of his closest supporter's head. In his coaching career, Monty Williams has made his vast share of errors, and I'm definitely not opposed to him having his day of reckoning come at season's end, but it'd be a shame if he's removed from his position in the near future due to the recent perfect storm of sorts. One where Ryan Anderson was physically unable to have Monty Williams' back.