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.”
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