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.
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