Kyle Anderson grew up in New Jersey, where he learned the game of basketball from an early age. The son of a high school basketball coach, Anderson was groomed to be a point guard. It didn’t matter that he would grow to be 6’9; his father didn’t want him to be “pigeonholed” as a post player.
Anderson wasn’t born with the leaping ability of a Blake Griffin or the speed of a Ty Lawson. In fact, Anderson earned the nickname “Slow Mo” in eighth grade while playing AAU ball. But his combination of height, basketball IQ and point guard skills made him a tough matchup for opposing teams, which would serve him well in high school and college.
In high school, Anderson won two state championships, was named a McDonald’s All-American and was invited to play in the Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoop Summit. Anderson then decided to go across the country to play at UCLA for Ben Howland, a coach who had recently prepped point guards like Darren Collison, Jordan Farmar, Jrue Holiday and Russell Westbrook for the jump into the NBA.
Anderson put together a strong freshman season playing primarily as a power forward, but Howland didn’t give him the freedom to fully utilize his unique skill-set. However, Steve Alford took over as UCLA’s head coach the next season, and utilized Anderson as more of a point guard. The results were promising. As a sophomore, Anderson averaged 14.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game. He registered UCLA’s first triple-double since 1995, with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a win over Morehead State. He would go on to win Most Outstanding Player of the Pac-12 Tournament, was selected third-team All-American and was also voted to the All-Pac-12 first team.
While Anderson’s “methodical” pace was an asset in high school and college, many scouts and analysts believed it would prevent him from having a significant impact in the NBA. This is why Anderson, who as a sophomore at UCLA was one of the best players in the nation, dropped to the end of the first round in this year’s NBA draft. Questions about his athleticism, what his natural position would be in the NBA, whether he could stay in front of quicker players and whether he could become a knock-down shooter were concerns for teams.
On draft night, Adam Silver, in his debut as Commissioner of the NBA, stepped to the podium to announce the final pick of the first round. “With the 30th pick in the 2014 NBA draft, the San Antonio Spurs select Kyle Anderson from UCLA,” Silver announced. Camera footage from a documentary of Anderson’s journey to the NBA showed an anxious Anderson overcome by emotion. He was selected by a championship organization, an organization he once told a group of kids to watch because the way they play the game is “beautiful.”
Anderson was right. The Spurs play the game in a way that is effective and seemingly effortless. But the results on the court are anything but effortless. They are the result of consistency, experience and most importantly hard work. In his short time with the Spurs, Anderson has seen that this is what it takes to be a championship team.
“Just picked up on a lot of good habits that these guys have,” Anderson told Basketball Insiders. “One thing I noticed, these guys come in and work. They get their extra work in. I really enjoy watching guys like Tim [Duncan], guys like Tony [Parker], work hard on their game, it kind of rubs off on me. You come in to work with the defending champs, you got to bring it every time; it just inspires you to bring it every day.”
The concerns surrounding Anderson’s game are still present. But who better to help him find a way to overcome those obstacles than the San Antonio Spurs? Consider Boris Diaw, who in 2012 was waived by the then-Charlotte Bobcats after falling out of favor with former head coach Paul Silas. Diaw, who has a unique skill-set similar to Anderson’s, signed with the Spurs and became an integral part of their offensive system and a major contributor to their most recent championship. The hope with Anderson is that he too can one day be a key piece for the Spurs. He may not become a key contributor in his rookie season, but the Spurs give him as good of an opportunity to be successful in the NBA as any team in the league.
“It’s gone very well,” Anderson said when asked about transitioning to the NBA. “This is a world-class organization. It’s been a lot of hard work, but I’ve enjoyed everything. The guys [have] been great, the coaches [have] been great and very helpful, it’s made the transition a lot easier.
“Of course I’m happy that I landed with the Spurs. I think I’m one of the most fortunate guys in the draft to land in San Antonio, especially as a 21-year-old kid. I think that means a lot and it’s going to help my career down the line.”
Anderson acknowledged that he is fortunate to have played at UCLA as well, a program with a rich tradition and high expectations.
“Both programs are big on tradition, have recent success in the past,” Anderson said. “So when you put on a UCLA jersey, when you put on a Spurs jersey, you’re actually playing for something, you’re playing for legacy, guys who’ve done it way better than you in the past.”
Anderson was back in Los Angeles this week as the Spurs faced the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday, and the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday. Anderson only played a collective 18 minutes in the two games, but that is expected for a rookie on a contending team filled with future Hall-of-Famers and veterans. For now, Anderson is happy to work on improving his overall game and focusing on the things that Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich demands from each player.
“Just with everybody from the top guy all the way down to the rookie, it starts on defense,” said Anderson. “He can’t stress that enough, that its starts with transition defense. So when I’m in practice or wherever I can help, I just come in with that focus; getting stops, transition defense, and that will lead to good offense.”
“Just being able to knock down open shots, speed up my game and lose that methodical pace. Try to speed up my game a little more and be able to knock down open shots really, and make the extra pass.”
When asked why he needed to pick up the pace, Anderson acknowledged the concerns that scouts had and still have about his game.
“Well it’s just a different level up here, the shot clock, guys who are much stronger than you, guys who are faster; it’s a different level,” Anderson said. “I may not get away with that [pace], so it’s something I wanted to work on, something they wanted me to work on, and I’ve been working on it so I’m pretty happy with where I am.”
Whether Anderson’s game will ever translate successfully to the NBA remains to be seen. The questions about his game are legitimate, and an obstacle to overcome. Fortunately for Anderson, there is arguably no better team to help him find success in the NBA than the Spurs. What we do already know, however, is that he is a perfect fit within the Spurs’ selfless culture. When asked what his personal goals were for this season, Anderson responded like he had been a member of the Spurs for years.
“No goals for me personally,” he says, “just help my team in whatever way I can.”
Spoken like a true Spur.
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.