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.”
A Few Good Free Agents Left
David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.
The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.
A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.
For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.
Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.
He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.
Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.
Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.
He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.
The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.
He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.
The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.
During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.
With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.
NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year
Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.
With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.
“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”
Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.
“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”
In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.
“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”
Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.
“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”
One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.
“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”
Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.
“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”
The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.
“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”
With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.
NBA Opening Night Storylines
Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.
The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.
Rejoice, hoop heads.
Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.
With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.
As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?
Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)
This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.
Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.
And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.
The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.
But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.
While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.
By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.
Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.
Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.
Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.
And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.
Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)
On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.
Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.
This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?
Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.
Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.
While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.
Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?
After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.
“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”
It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.
That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.
Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.
With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.