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.