For Dallas Mavericks forward Justin Anderson, the 2015-16 NBA season was extremely instrumental in his development.
Despite starting out slow, Anderson progressed and eventually turned heads – particularly during the NBA playoffs. Logging 19 minutes per game and averaging 9.4 points, Anderson nearly doubled his playing time and production. His ability to defend nearly any player on the court paired with his athleticism, length and strength make him a perfect candidate for a breakout year.
Entering the 2016-17 season, the 22-year-old is hoping he can take his game to the next level. Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Anderson to discuss his offseason, Dallas’ new additions, life as a Maverick, his cooking skils and much more.
Oliver Maroney: How’s your offseason and training camp been going?
Justin Anderson: “Everything’s been good. Obviously we’re entering our last day of two-a-days, heading to the second one now. It’s been really cool to be a part of this for the second year. Looking back on this time last season, it’s amazing how far I’ve come.
“I was lost, to say the least, last season. Everything was a blur going from college to the NBA; it happened really fast. I had some good Summer League performances and you just think that’s what the season will be like. It was just a learning curve and it just feels great to have a better understanding coming into this season.”
Maroney: What’s that adjustment period like? It must be difficult getting acclimated to the NBA game coming from college. Can you talk about how difficult that is?
Anderson: “I mean, it especially affects you when you think that the shots you were getting and the volume of shots you were getting, were going to come opportunistically. Going into preseason, I didn’t really understand the importance of preseason until really late. I didn’t really grasp the importance of defining your role not just to your coaches, but proving to your teammates that you were capable of playing. I think they all knew I had potential but they were like, ‘He’s not quite ready.’ I think that was because I was rushing and forcing everything and wasn’t always in the right positions. I had good intentions and they all knew that, I just wanted to impress. But you can’t always force things and you’ve got to let some of these things come naturally, especially with all the superstars we had.
“So mentally, my biggest adjustment is being more cautious and understanding that in pickup or Summer League you can get more shots and dominate the ball more. But this preseason, I want to become more solid and well-rounded. I want to establish myself as an anchor on our younger group when needed, while also playing off of our key guys like Wes [Matthews] and Harrison [Barnes]. Just being able to follow those guys’ lead and continue to play my game. Ultimately, as an individual, you can try to stand out as you want. But as a team, if you can build a great chemistry and trust, everything will come that much more naturally and it puts me in a position to continue to grow as a basketball player.”
Maroney: What specifically are you working on to improve your game?
Anderson: “One of the biggest things is being able to get to the paint. I’m also working on finishing with both hands. Not just doing simple layups, but also being able to utilize my length to get around guys, and really take advantage of that. One of the things coach [Rick Carlisle] harps on is really getting into the painted area, so I’ve been trying to utilize my size and strength to do that.
“With guys who are playmakers such as J.J. [Barea], Seth [Curry] and Wes, I’ve also been trying to work on my floor spacing and being able to open up for others to get shots. Obviously with guys like that, you want to make the game easier on them. So being able to hit three-point shots as an outlet for them is important. Defensively, just continuing to guard any position; point guard through the four position. I’m trying to get better in my one-on-one defense and also guarding guys that are taller than me.”
Maroney: What expectations do you have for yourself and the team this upcoming season?
Anderson: “Big expectations. We grew and got much better this offseason. With some of the additions we’ve made like Harrison [Barnes] and Andrew [Bogut], who were teammates, along with Seth [Curry] and Quincy [Acy], I think we’re going to be good. Bogut obviously is such a great passer and does so many things well. Harrison did good things in Golden State too. Quincy and Seth will be coming in off the bench and hopefully help us make some noise.
“We’re not settling for anything, this is a winning organization, and nothing about that has changed. I’m fortunate and excited to be a part of it. I’m just really looking forward to this season overall.
“For me personally, I’ve got bigger expectations for myself, but I have an open mind. From last year, I know that I could have my number called at any time, so I could be starting or on the bench. Whatever that role is, I take it one day at a time. I just want to continue to do what I do best and go forward from there. I have goals like hoping to make it to the Rookie vs. Sophomore Challenge. But also I want to be a key player, a piece to this big puzzle we have. With my energy, athleticism, work ethic and hustle, I think I can help this team do that.”
Maroney: Many people are predicting this could be a breakout year for you. Why do you feel that could be the case, and how excited are you to try to make that happen?
Anderson: “I think that’s because people saw a taste of what I could do at the right time of the year. Obviously a lot of people tune into the playoffs and I had an opportunity that a lot of rookies didn’t have or aren’t ready for. I was thrown into the fire and I could’ve easily let the lack of playing time earlier in the season dictate my play, but I stayed positive and it paid off. I’m excited that people think that and are talking about me. But this is a results-based business and I’ve got to continue to work to live that up.”
Maroney: Dallas had a busy summer, adding Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and other veterans. What do you think about the offseason acquisitions and how much better can this team be because of those moves?
Anderson: “I would definitely say that it helped us get better. All the vets on our team have helped because they’ve been in this league so long and understand their roles so well. Guys like Deron [Williams], J.J. [Barea], Dirk [Nowitzki], they understand the game so well and have helped me grow so much. Harrison has already helped me and really cares about my growth. But I also cling to this younger group a lot too. If we continue to stay healthy and play the right way, with our style of basketball, we could potentially be together for a long time. It’s extremely exciting.”
Maroney: Who are some players who you emulate or base your game off of as you continue to develop?
Anderson: “As I get older, I kind of lose that a bit, but it doesn’t mean I don’t learn from others or continue to add to my game though. I do watch a lot of LeBron James as far as his ability to attack and get to the paint. But it’s not one single player that I watch to continue to grow from. At the end of the day, these guys are your competitors.
“Honestly, a lot of the stuff I’ve learned since coming into the league has just been playing against these guys. Just the little different things you can do to shorten up your movements, it’s learning the tricks of the trade.
“Growing up, it was watching Tracy McGrady, LeBron James, even Penny Hardaway. Just watching Penny move with the basketball, how he shot the ball, just every detail. But now, since I’m in the league it’s a little different.”
Maroney: What do you do in your off time? Do you have any hobbies or passions outside of playing basketball?
Anderson: “Yeah man, I call myself an aspiring chef. I love to cook. I love to play video games, as I consider myself one of the best Madden players in the world. Also, just being able to chill, I have a puppy and being able to take care of him is great. I don’t go out, it’s just my pad and me. So I just stay in the house. Sometimes I’ll play cards, but most of the time it’s just my dog and me.”
Maroney: So as an aspiring chef, do you have a go-to meal? Something you would cook for a special person or something that you just love cooking?
Anderson: “Honestly, not really. As a chef, you can’t really have a signature dish. You’ve got to consider the time of the year it is, whom you’re cooking for and how you’re feeling. You can’t go wrong with a really good roasted chicken and vegetables, but there are so many things you could do.
“I’m actually learning under another chef and he told me, ‘Don’t make up your mind before you do it,’ kind of like basketball. So I guess you could tell me some of the foods you like and I’ll try to make it work.”
Maroney: Dirk has obviously been in the league a long time and is still regarded as one of the best players in the NBA. What’s it like playing with him and what kind of impact has he had on you – on and off the court?
Anderson: “He’s had a huge impact on me because of his work ethic. At first, I didn’t know what to say to him, but once I realized my locker was right next to his, I knew I’d have to talk to him sometime. So it was a little awkward at first because I knew about his greatness and now I was on his team. But once I got to know him, he’s been one of the coolest, most down-to-earth guys I’ve ever met. He’s another guy that I grew up watching. When he had Steve Nash as his point guard, those were incredible teams. He’s helped me a ton with confidence and keeping me on track to succeed. There are so many things that I can’t even give you specifics because he’s helped me in so many ways – on and off the court. It’s going to be a sad day when I realize he’s not going to be my teammate anymore.”
Maroney: You’ve had some pretty spectacular dunks already in the NBA. Would you be interested in entering the dunk competition?
Anderson: “Yeah, I would definitely be interested. Obviously it depends on what’s going on that time of year and how we’re doing as a team. But I would certainly be interested. I already know the two beasts I have to climb up against in Zach [LaVine] and Aaron [Gordon]. At least if I could try and get out of round one, I’d be alright.”
Maroney: How do you like being a part of the Mavericks organization? It seems like Mark Cuban is one of the best owners in all of sports, Rick Carlisle is extremely well-respected and Dirk Nowitzki is legend. How great has that situation been for you and what kind of advantage does that give you over other young players who may not be in the most stable, top-notch franchise?
Anderson: “I’m lucky to be a part of this organization. For this to be my first opportunity in the NBA is incredible. Obviously just winning a championship a few years back, having Mark here, and this whole supporting cast, it’s incredible. It’s a good opportunity and I’m pretty spoiled to have it.”
Maroney: Who are your closest teammates and why have you been able to develop such strong bonds with them?
Anderson: “J.J. Barea. Last year going through the ups and downs, at the end of the game he tended to be the player that wasn’t beat up and really helped us young guys grow. He’s an extremely positive guy and he just encouraged me to continue to work and grow.”
NBA Daily: Tyus Jones Thriving in Bigger Role
Minnesota’s Tyus Jones speaks to David Yapkowitz about his growing role with the Wolves.
It was the last game of the 2016-17 NBA season. The Minnesota Timberwolves had been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention for quite some time. Their opponent that night, the Houston Rockets, had an impressive year and were on their way to the postseason.
Although the Wolves would go on to lose that game, 123-118, Tyus Jones came off the bench to have to his best game of the year. He would finish with 17 points on 66.7 percent shooting from the field, 75 percent from the three-point line, seven assists, four rebounds, two steals, and a blocked shot.
Jones had just finished up his second year in the NBA, which had gone a little bit just like his first; a few games played here and there followed by some DNP-CD’s. Rookie Kris Dunn was ahead of him on the depth chart at backup point guard for the majority of the year. That stat line he put up on the last night of the season, however, should have been a sign of things to come.
Now in his third year, and second playing under Tom Thibodeau, Jones has firmly seized the backup point guard spot. Thibodeau is notorious for playing short rotations, and along with Jamal Crawford and Gorgui Dieng, Jones has solidified himself as one of Minnesota’s most dependable reserves.
“It’s been good, I’m just trying to contribute to the team as much as possible,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I want to do whatever I need to do to help this team win more games.”
The Timberwolves have done just that so far. They won 31 games all of last season. This year, they already have 16 wins. They didn’t break that mark last season until mid-January. Jones’ impact on the Wolves this year has been a big reason for that.
His stats may not jump off the page; he’s averaging 3.9 points per game on 42.5 percent shooting, and 2.8 assists in about 17 minutes of play. But he’s become a reliable floor leader who is able to anchor the Wolves second unit. He’s also one of their best floor spacers at 38.2 percent from the three-point line, and he’s an improved defensive player.
“For me, having a little bit bigger role this year, it’s what I wanted,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just trying to make the most of it and take advantage of it.”
Jones has definitely taken advantage of his new role. Starting point guard Jeff Teague missed four games last month due to a sore right Achilles tendon. Aaron Brooks started in place of Teague for the first game he missed, but Jones was the starter for the next three.
In his first ever career start on Nov. 26 in a win over the Phoenix Suns, Jones had nine points on 50 percent shooting, four rebounds, seven assists, seven steals, and two blocks. The following game, albeit in a loss to the Washington Wizards, he finished with 12 points, four rebounds, and seven assists. In his final start before Teague returned, a win over the New Orleans Pelicans, he had his best game of the season with 16 points on 66.7 percent shooting, four rebounds, six assists, and four steals.
“It was a dream, I’m just trying to make the most of it,” Jones told Basketball Insiders about being a starter. “Once again, take advantage of the opportunity and just do my role.”
Although Jones only spent one season playing college basketball before entering the NBA draft, it was the program he attended that’s allowed him to make a seamless transition. He played at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski during the 2014-15 season, winning a national championship alongside fellow NBA players Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Quinn Cook.
“It’s the best program in the country. Coach K is the best coach, arguably ever, to coach the game,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “There’s nothing comparable on the college level, playing at Duke. They’re the brightest lights, so that helps prepare you for the next level.”
The Wolves are a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in over a decade. It was the 2003-04 season, to be exact. This year, however, they are hoping to change that. They currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference, fighting for the right to host a playoff series in the first round.
“We’re trying to make the playoffs, that’s our goal right now,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “Each year, we’re trying to get better. We’re still trying to take that next step. This organization hasn’t been to the playoffs in a number of years.”
With Jones playing a pivotal role, the Wolves’ playoff drought looks like it will be coming to an end very shortly.
NBA Most Valuable Player Watch — 12/12/17
Dennis Chambers updates the latest MVP watch rankings.
The NBA season is coming in hot on Christmas Day games, and before we know it the new year will arrive as well. As the second half of the season starts to come into sight, more stability among the league’s MVP candidates will prevail.
By now, most of the frontrunners for the award have staked their claim of consistent dominance over the last eight weeks of the NBA season.
For our list here at Basketball Insiders, the same names make up our ladder from the last MVP race installment. A slight juggling of the order is the only new wrinkle. Thus far, these individuals have put themselves ahead of the pack.
A full season in the NBA is a long race, but through the first few laps, these are the MVP leaders.
6. Steph Curry (Last Week: 3)
Coming in at No. 3 on the last list, Steph Curry sees a bit of a tumble in the standings. Unfortunately for Curry, he’s suffering from a sprained ankle that is going to cause him to miss some time. Fortunately for the Golden State Warriors, they’ve won three straight games without their star point guard.
This doesn’t discredit the type of season Curry is having, or his brilliance on the court when he’s healthy, but the fact that the Warriors have enough firepower to sustain his absence damages his claim to the most “valuable” player throne.
Nevertheless, for the Warriors to truly fulfill their championship potential, Curry needs to be healthy and playing. Otherwise, the Warriors aren’t as lethal as they could be.
Barring a complete meltdown from his ball club, Curry’s spot will likely continue to drop slightly as he sits on the bench watching his team win games without him.
Almost the exact opposite of Curry, the Philadelphia 76ers don’t seem to have a prayer at winning basketball games that Joel Embiid sits out of. Luckily for the city of Philadelphia, though, that hasn’t been nearly frequent of an occurrence as past seasons.
The on/off numbers for Embiid are staggering. On both ends of the court, no less. Without their big man, the Sixers’ offensive rating drops off by more than five points and their defensive rating sees a 10-point spike in favor of their opponents.
In short, it’s worse for the Sixers when Embiid is tweeting rather than playing.
After missing back-to-back games over the weekend, Embiid’s value became more apparent to the Sixers. Among a myriad of injuries, Embiid’s was felt the heaviest as his team posted a defensive rating of 111.6 to the Cleveland Cavaliers and then a 130.2 the next night to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Both figures are a far cry from the 102.9 rating the team records with Embiid on the floor.
Much like Curry, the Sixers will need Embiid on the court moving forward to live their best life. So long as he is resting on back-to-backs, or sitting with back soreness, the Sixers won’t be as fortunate as the Warriors to pull out wins.
Masked Kyrie joined Untucked Kyrie this season as another alter ego capable of taking the NBA and Twitter by storm on a nightly basis.
Irving, despite suffering an injury to his face that forced him to wear a protective mask a la Rip Hamilton, still has the Boston Celtics atop the league standings with his MVP campaign so far this season. Over Irving’s last 10 games, he’s averaging 25.8 points on 53 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc. Over the course of that same span, the Celtics are 7-3.
Just to strengthen his already solid MVP claim, the Celtics went into Chicago Monday night to play the Bulls without Irving, as he sat out of the game with a quad contusion. All the league’s best team preceded to do was lose 108-85 to the league’s worst team.
At this point in the season, MVP candidates have their statistics in place. As viewers and fans, we really get to see the difference they make on their teams during the games that they aren’t playing, and Monday night for the Celtics was a microcosm of Irving’s season-long importance to the success of their team.
The Greek Freak is still putting up absurd numbers, keeping him right in the conversation for Most Valuable Player. On top of his gaudy production, the Milwaukee Bucks are starting to pile up some wins as well.
Winning six of their last seven games — the only loss coming to the Celtics where Antetokounmpo put up 40 points, nine rebounds, and four assists — the Bucks currently hold a 15-10 record and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
It’s been well-documented up to this point how effective Antetokounmpo is for Milwaukee from a numbers standpoint. If he can really start translating those performances into wins over good teams, the narrative of him winning the award may begin to revert back the dominance it held over the first few weeks of the season.
As it currently stands, though, Antetokounmpo is ahead of the rest of the pack before a pretty sizeable gap at the two spots above him.
After having his Cavaliers’ 13-game win streak snapped by an unconscious Victor Oladipo, LeBron James returned to business as usual by defeating the shorthanded Sixers without Kevin Love by his side. He did so in typical Year 15 fashion, posting 30 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists, and three steals.
No big deal.
That’s the mantra for James’ 15th year in the NBA: Do it all, and do it well. He doesn’t have the supporting cast that many projected coming into this season, and Irving is out doing his thing in Boston. But for the King of the NBA, after a month of rough basketball, he seems to be figuring it all out for his club and putting them in the positions they need to be in to be successful.
Since the start of Cleveland’s winning streak up until the game against Philadelphia, James is averaging 27.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.1 blocks, 55 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
His team is 14-1, Irving is in Boston, and Isaiah Thomas is on the bench.
Year 15 may very well end with James getting MVP number five.
The only man standing between James and his fifth MVP is the man who’s setting the league on fire trying to get his first.
James Harden is recreating his stellar season from a year ag but improving it, somehow. Harden’s averages are incredible: 32 points, 9.5 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 40 percent from downtown, and a 31.6 player efficiency rating.
Not to mention he’s led the Houston Rockets to a 21-4 record, and looks to be a real threat at knocking off the Golden State Warriors.
What Harden is doing on the defensive end is what is brining his game, and his MVP case, to the next level. Harden is posting his lowest defensive rating is four years and coming up big on D in crunch time situations.
On Monday night against the Pelicans, Harden came up with a clutch steal with under a minute to go (his sixth of the night) to extinguish a New Orleans rally and put the icing on his 26-point, 17-assist performance.
LeBron may be having an MVP season, even by his standards, but Harden’s performance this year thus far is keeping the King at arms length of the MVP crown.
NBA DAILY: What Is Really Wrong With The Thunder?
The Thunder continue to struggle to string together wins. What’s the problem in OKC?
At Some Point It Just Doesn’t Work
The Oklahoma City Thunder continue to be middling, despite having the star level talent it takes in the NBA to be exceptional. With the clock ticking in the wrong direction, is it more likely that this combination of players won’t work, or is there something bigger at play worth considering?
Before we dive too far into this, keep in mind the Thunder have played their 26th game, and are just a half a game out of the eighth spot in the West. Equally, they are also three and a half games behind the fourth-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves, so the sky is far from falling. In fact, they have won four of their last six games, including wins over the Spurs and Timberwolves, which only makes the Jekyll and Hyde of all of this even more frustrating.
All of that said, what’s really wrong with the Thunder? Here are some thoughts:
Not Enough Touches
The Oklahoma City Thunder are dead last in the NBA in touches per game as a team at 384. To contrast that number, the Philadelphia 76ers lead the league in touches at 480.9 touches per game.
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook accounts for 94.4 touches per game, while forward Carmelo Anthony accounts for 61.3 touches with swingman Paul George bringing in 56.0 touched per game. Those three players account for 211.7 of the Thunders 384 touches per game.
That’s not as bad as you would think watching the Thunder play, but what it does illustrate is that neither Anthony or Paul are getting the volume of touches both are used to getting before joining the Thunder. It’s also why neither seems to be able to get into a rhythm on a game to game bases. They have had their moments individually, but it been far from consistent.
It’s more than fair to say that the Thunder offense isn’t generating enough touches to maximize what George and Anthony bring to the table. When the Miami HEAT brought their “Big Three” together, one of the biggest challenges they faced was how to generate the touches to get all their guys in a rhythm and rolling.
That seems to be the biggest part of the problem with the Thunder.
Russ Has To Be Russ
When you look at the Thunder’s “convincing wins” those wins in which they look like an elite team in the NBA, Russell Westbrook plays like last year’s MVP.
The problem for the Thunder is it seems Russell is trying to get other players, specifically Anthony, often to the detriment of his team and his own game. When Westbrook puts his head down and plays his game, the Thunder tend to come out on top.
Westbrook never seemed to have this problem playing with Kevin Durant, and maybe that’s why Durant opted to leave, but Westbrook seems to be trying too hard to get others going.
Where’d Offense Go?
The Thunder continue to talk about how good they are defensively, and that’s a real thing. They are currently the ranked second in the NBA’s defensive rating category. They rank second in point allowed per 100 possessions at 103, just behind league leader Boston at 101.6 points per 100 possessions.
There is no doubt their defense is keeping them in games, but what’s killing them is the long stretches of sub-par offense, many times in the fourth quarter where their offense comes to a grinding halt.
Some have suggested that head coach Billy Donovan simply isn’t creative enough for the construct of this roster. Looking at the stats this far into the season, there may be something to the idea that the Thunder, offensively, just are not creative enough to maximize the potential of their star players.
It’s Not A Selfish Problem
The easy answer on the Thunder is to say they are simply selfish players. There is enough historical evidence on Anthony and Westbrook to support the idea, however, if you really look at the Thunders’ games, it’s actually the opposite. Westbrook likely isn’t selfish enough; it’s likely why he’s struggling from the field on the season.
Part of the offensive problem may be Westbrook’s shooting. His averages this season is markedly down from a year ago—39.6 percent this season from the field versus 42.5 percent last season. Westbrook is also 31.1 percent from three this year versus 34.3 percent from three last season.
But Westbrook is not alone, George is tying his second worst season from the field at 41.8 percent shooting. Anthony is having his worst year as a pro from the field at 40.4 percent.
All three are producing some of their lowest efficiency ratings of their careers, so it’s not just one guy doing so much more than the other. None of them are playing particularly well together.
It’s easy to look at the Thunder and label them one thing or the other; there are enough polarizing personalities on the roster to draw the labels. The truth of the matter is the Thunder just are not very good or efficient offensively, and until they find a way to make that part work, they will likely continue to be middling.
That’s going to make things fairly tough on the Thunder front office, because come the February 9th NBA Trade Deadline, the Thunder may have to cut bait on some players before they potentially lose them in free agency for nothing. The trade deadline is only about 60 days away, believe it or not.
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