Can Justin Anderson give the Mavs future a ray of sunlight?
Nothing made me more sick when my beloved Boston Celtics drafted Terry Rozier and passed on the no-fail prospect Justin Anderson. The Virgina product is built from the same cloth as Jae Crowder, and had the game and mentality that could lead to an instant impact right out of the gate. A year later, I’m a lot more comfortable with Rozier, but still come away just impressed watching Anderson. But on a Mavericks team that won’t allow Dirk Nowitzki to go out on a rebuilding team, can Anderson make the type of leap that makes the Mavericks pieces come together?
Justin Anderson had a prototypical rookie season. He had to work to make the rotation, and mostly got limited time when he did touch the court (11.8mpg). Though Anderson came in with a reputation as a guy who could contribute immediately as a “3 and D” prospect, the Mavs defensive rating dropped 5.3 points when he was on the court, and he shot a putrid 26.5% from three. Those familiar with Carlise know that he runs a very strict system that demands immense discipline, something that a rookie would understandably have problems with. Despite allowing opposition to score 1.8% more against him, he was great defending inside the perimeter where guys shot 6.9% worse when inside 6 feet, and 6.2% worse when guys show less than 10ft away. At 6-6, 228 pounds, his strong frame allowed him to use his body to keep guys out of the paint. It was understanding defense inside a team concept that he struggled with, and it cost him minutes.
It wasn’t until the playoffs where he showed his true value. In the five game series, Anderson was fantastic as he defended 1 thru 4, rebounded, distributed, hit some shots, and did a great job of moving without the basketball. The Mavericks were a whopping 19.2 points better in the postseason when Anderson was on the court.
That confidence followed him into the Summer league where he averaged 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 2.6 assits per game including a decent 33.3% from three. So where does he go from here?
Usually one of the first things I do when projecting how a player will improve, is look at what his role will most likely be in the NBA, and talk about how he can reach that level. For Anderson, he came into the league as the “3 and D” guy, and struggled in both areas. His 80% Free throw percentage suggests that his jumpshot still has the necessary potential to eventually become a knockdown shooter. One of the most interesting things about Anderson’s shooting percentage is that despite him just shooting pretty bad across the board, in 25% of his three’s in which he takes one or two dribbles, Anderson shoots 47%. The trend stretched into the 2point field goals as well, where 41% of Anderson’s shots were with one or two dribbles in which he shot 58%. Anderson isn’t a known ball-handler and in college where he averaged 1.32ppp off spot-up attempts. However, I do think that it was a sign of his uncomfortablity in the offense. The few times where he did get a chance to take a couple dribbles, he was able to shoot the ball with more confidence. But Carlise isn’t going to feature Anderson in his offense regardless, so the first step in Anderson’s development will be getting to at least league average on his catch and shoot attempts.
A natural development we’ll begin to see is Anderson’s ability to make timely cuts, and start to anticipate where to go while running the offense.
Anderson finished a blistering 73.3% of his shots at the rim last season, and his big body will allow him to go up and finish through contact. It will be interesting next year to see if Dallas tries to get Anderson going to rim more via dribble handoffs, last season Anderson finished in the 66.1 percentile in handoff finishes, and averaged .93ppp. This could help boost his confidence offensively, while developing his decision-making.
Despite the acquisition of Harrison Barnes, Anderson should still be very confident. He should be able to beat out guys like Quincy Acy and Dwight Powell for the top forward position. Which is huge because this could be a season where the Mavs opt to a lot of small-ball. Last season, two of the five most used Mavericks lineups were small-ball lineups with one big. Because Harrison Barnes has the strength and the experience playing both the 3 and 4 unlike Parsons, Carlise may be more tempted to use a lineup that features Matthews-Anderson-Barnes to maximize versatility. But it comes with the caveat that Anderson has to show an improved jump shot, and better feel for the Mavs system. Opportunity is knocking, and Anderson has all the tools to make a leap.