All this week, Ryan Anderson has been in the news for his summer regiment. Joel Meyers, the Pelicans play-by-play announcer, quipped that Anderson appears to be in the best shape of his life. The team's new strength and conditioning coach, Jason Sumerlin, has singled him out as well, crediting a high-intensity training program. Peers like Quincy Pondexter have also sung his praises.
If you've paid attention to Anderson during the course of his career in New Orleans, it was painfully obvious he suffered through a vastly disappointing 2014-15 campaign. Before the season began, I forewarned of such an event, but the idea never went mainstream. Once a solid sample size had developed and it was evident his numbers were noticeably down, the majority clamored for less minutes. Others wanted to see him utilized as a trade piece, thinking this might be the new normal for Ryan Anderson.
Quentin's Ryan Anderson 2014-15 review did paint a dismal picture.
As I alluded to, Anderson didn’t have the best of offensive seasons, finishing with a handful of career lows. His 15.6 PER was his lowest total since his rookie season six years ago. His 52.4 true shooting mark was the lowest of his career, 13.7 points per game was his fourth lowest total and lowest since the 2010-11 season. However, it was Anderson’s three point shooting that fell off a cliff.
Before his injury last year, Anderson was on the verge of a career season from beyond the arc, shooting 40.9 percent on 7.5 attempts before succumbing to injury. This year, he shot 34.0 percent from three. There were moments where Anderson looked like the lights were going to turn on, a couple open threes here or there, but it never happened.
Once the season was over, we learned in Ryno's exit interview that we had watched just-out-of-rehab Anderson, not in prime-physical-condition-ready-for-82-games Anderson. However, he stated that he was looking forward to the offseason as he would have a chance to work on building up his body and game. In following Anderson's Instagram account this summer, this focus never wavered.
Immediately after New Orleans was swept out of the playoffs by Golden State, Anderson claimed he was already to get back to work.
Thanks to all the fans for their support this season!!!! Feels surreal to be done, but more work is right around the corner. This is gonna be the hardest working summer of my career. Love you guys!
Six weeks later, he posted a picture of himself shooting in a gym along with the following message:
Gettin that jumper back. Feels good to be back home and in the gym. I'm making a commitment this summer to be the best mentally, physically, and spiritually I can be#justlikeridingabike #24hour
Another five weeks later, he looked to be in excellent shape while lifting weights.
These arms above don't look anything alike to the ones in the picture at the top of this article. Although it's unclear as to which direction his weight has moved from a listed 240 pounds, there is no question he is going to be a physically much stronger player. At the end of the day, that's really what matters, a stronger and quicker Flamethrower.
When considering Anthony Davis recently surpassed 250 pounds, the oft-dreamed scenario from several years ago of an Anderson-Davis frontcourt doesn't seem like it might be such a mismatch defensively or on the glass anymore. It certainly helps to play alongside the potential 2016 MVP, but Anderson looks primed to be able to hold his own. Essentially, that would mean this duo would be better than nearly any frontcourt pair standing opposite them.
Alvin Gentry's 2009 duo of Amare Stoudemire and Channing Frye didn't eclipse a total of 500 pounds, yet they saw 1464 minutes as compared to just 728 minutes for the Robin Lopez-Stoudemire combination. This particular Suns team went on to push the Lakers to 6 games in the Western Conference Finals.
Omer Asik will start, but he shouldn't affect Anderson's minutes all that much. Andrew Bogut averaged 23.6 minutes a contest last season despite being the Warriors best paint protector. Asik won't dwarf that number, not with his back prone to injury and the Pelicans looking to heavily increase the pace of play.
In today's game, spacing is crucial as modern defenses have learned how to overload the strong sides. Opponents have to respect Anderson whether his shot is dropping or not. (For the record, I expect Anderson to have a career year next season.) Just like how Frye helped propel Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire and the rest of the Suns to the 4th best offense since 1980, Anderson's ability to stretch the defense will keep the paint open for the Pelicans host of penetrators and give the Brow the most room to spread his wings.
It all boils down to whether Anderson rediscovers his touch from the outside without sacrificing too much as a defender and rebounder. As mentioned earlier, he suffered through his worst three-point shooting performance of his career. This was especially troubling considering how often he found himself open.
According to Nylon Calculus, Anderson was open more than half the time (50.6%) yet he managed to shoot just 33.9% from three-point range. For his career, he's converted 37.9% from this range, and two years ago, before his spinal injury, he set a career high of 40.9%.
Alvin Gentry wants the Pelicans to shoot a lot more threes next season. Anderson will play an important role in achieving a lofty total, but his minutes will also directly be affected by the other parts of a basketball game. If his rebounding numbers, particularly DREB%, can climb back up to a respectable percentage of say 15-17% or if opponents fail to take advantage of him defensively more times than not, the Flamethrower will be in line to have a very special season. Don't forget (you can bet he certainly hasn't), his next NBA contract depends on it.