Appreciating Ryan Anderson and in turn, Stan Van Gundy

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Lost in the Rashard Lewis-Gilbert Arenas shuffle was an interesting development: Ryan Anderson, a young player (though one not exactly exploding with potential) still on his rookie deal, had a ready-made offensive game that could essentially make Lewis replaceable. Anderson isn’t capable of matching all of Lewis’ strengths — he still has a ways to go as a post-up option, for example — but combined with Brandon Bass, the forward pairing can accomplish most of what Lewis was able to provide for a sliver of the price.

Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel took a look at some of Anderson’s per-minute and per-possession numbers, and his relative standing among his positional peers may surprise you.

Offensively, Anderson is a strong contributor. He won’t often be confused for a shot-creating star, but he’s a very solid complementary player who understands how to capitalize off of Dwight Howard’s presence. The stretch 4 template doesn’t usually come with strong rebounding skills, but Anderson also holds his own in that regard. There’s still a healthy separation in rebounding rate between Anderson and the elite rebounders at his position, but he’s competent enough — even with Howard gobbling up every rebound in sight — in that regard to dodge any serious concern.

Yet Anderson still doesn’t always get considerable playing time, and thus lacks the means with which to turn those strong per-minute numbers into equally strong per-game ones. As for the reason why, McCann is again on the case:

Obviously, numbers aren’t the be-all, end-all for determining how productive a player is. In fact, when these numbers were presented to Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, he sort of shrugged his shoulders.

“On all the statistical stuff he’s been our second-best player pretty much the entire year,” Van Gundy said. “He and Brandon [Bass], neither one of them, numbers will never be the problem.”

These numbers, of course, don’t factor in defense (other than blocks, an unreliable statistic in determining a good defender), and that’s a primary area where Anderson must improve. Anderson grasps what the Magic want out of him on defense, but he’s sometimes not quick enough on rotations and prone to youthful mistakes such as dumb fouls or jumping out too quickly on pick and rolls. That’s where Van Gundy wants to see improvement, and he isn’t interested as much in Anderson’s PER or true shooting percentage.

If he were playing for any number of other NBA coaches, Anderson would likely go about his hot-shooting business undisturbed. Defense would likely be emphasized in practice and in games, but Stan Van Gundy is among the few who will repeatedly make the decision to bench productive players on the basis of defense alone. As good as Anderson is, this is the right play for the Magic and Van Gundy’s system; if Anderson can’t or won’t defend, then SVG should endeavor to find a player who will.

Dwight Howard is the only standout defender on Orlando’s roster, regardless of what you may have been told about Earl Clark. That means that everyone else has to fall in line with the scheme, or else one of the top defenses in the league will collapse with the individual limitations of its component parts. There can be so few compromises, if only because the system already has to make up for the relative weaknesses of Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, and a handful of others.

Anderson — and the same is true of Brandon Bass — needs to improve defensively if he’s to fully replace Lewis on his own rather than filling in for 20-minute bursts. More playing time may have been gifted him in other systems, but SVG knows no charity in his rotation, and every minute will need to be earned with defensive execution.

PBT Extra: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.