Every NBA team needs a glue guy. Someone who does all the little things that often go unnoticed to the untrained eye, but contribute to winning basketball. They may not fill up the stat sheet, but their impact definitely makes a difference and they help hold the team together.
For the Philadelphia 76ers, that guy is Justin Anderson. On a team with several young, up and coming stars such as Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz, Anderson is content to be that guy who may not always get major recognition but clearly plays a crucial role on the team.
Anderson, who turns 24 on Nov. 19, is actually among the older players on the 76ers roster. He began his career two years ago when he was drafted No. 21 by the Dallas Mavericks. He credits the older veterans in Dallas with helping him get adjusted to the NBA lifestyle, and that’s a big part of what he’s hoping to achieve in Philadelphia.
“The best thing that happened to me was being drafted by a team like Dallas, with so many veterans that they had. It helped me understand the NBA game much faster than a lot of other rookies. It helped me learn how to take care of my body, be a good teammate, it helped me learn the game,” Anderson told Basketball Insiders. “I just try to bring everything I learned from those guys and try to help in as many ways as I can from a personal standpoint off the court, and on the court. I think I’ve been doing a good job of it and guys will respond to it.”
During the 2015-16 season, Anderson’s rookie year, the Mavericks were still a team with aspirations of being a playoff contender. They went 42-40 and he was able to pick up some valuable playoff experience. Although the Mavericks lost in the first round to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Anderson put up a solid showing with 9.4 points on 45.9 percent shooting and 33.3 percent from the three-point line.
The following year, Anderson was traded to the 76ers at the trade deadline. The 76ers were mired in a long-term rebuilding project and had only won ten games the season before. It was a far cry from the situation he left in Dallas. Despite that, he welcomed the new challenge and was eager to prove his worth.
“Coming in it was almost like I had to re-prove myself, kind of show what my value was as a teammate and player, just hanging in there and bringing the type of leadership I feel like I bring,” Anderson told Basketball Insiders. “That’s energy, that’s being able to unite guys, being able to encourage, and also just play hard, balls to the wall every possession. That’s where I hang my hat, and everything else is bonuses. I’ve been working on my game, so everything else just comes from trust in my work.”
When out on the court, Anderson does his part to make sure each play runs smoothly. He’s put up modest numbers this year, 5.6 points and 3.3 rebounds, but his value goes beyond stats. He keeps the basketball moving so that the offense doesn’t stagnate, and he isn’t afraid to get tough on the defensive end of the floor.
One of the biggest strengths, however, that he’s brought to the team, especially this season, is three-point shooting. At a time in the NBA where good outside shooting is a necessity, Anderson is more than happy to fill the role of long-range gunner for the 76ers. He didn’t always shoot the ball well from deep; he shot 30 percent or lower his first two years in the league. But this season he’s shooting a career-best 39.1 percent from downtown.
“Coach Brown really encouraged shooting threes, and that’s what I like to do, play hard on defense and get a good look at the three-point line and take it,” Anderson told Basketball Insiders. “He encourages stepping into it with confidence, and I knew this was going to be a great fit for me for that reason.”
Although it’s still early in the season, there are big reasons for optimism in Philadelphia. The 76ers currently sit in playoff position in the Eastern Conference at 7-6. Last season, they didn’t win their seventh game until Dec. 18. They had two extended losing streaks of seven and eight games respectively up to that point. With the season starting off so well, the expectations have clearly changed.
“Playoffs, it’s simple as that,” Anderson told Basketball Insiders. “The biggest thing is just continuing to realize that whatever happened in the past, record and all of that, it’s in the past. We’ve done away with it and we’ve moved on. We’re trying to create something good, and we’re on track.”
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