Kyle Anderson defends against the Spurs, Wednesday night.
I’ll preface this by saying that I am probably the last person to expect to write something about Kyle Anderson without being biased. I’ve had a strange fascination with him, dating back to the summer before the 2014 NBA draft, when he was taken eight spots behind the Grizzlies' pick at 30th overall.
Tayshaun Prince was the team's starting small forward, and I welcomed the prospect of having a play-making small forward that actually showed the ability to make three-pointers in college — shooting 48 percent in his final season. And Anderson was crafty around the basket and found ways to get to the rim in spite of his obvious lack of athleticism.
And then he was “Spurred.” Or should I say “Popped”?
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is known for shaping his players to fit his system and philosophy and he made no exceptions with Anderson. Gone were Anderson's days of being on the ball and being the primary ball handler. Instead, Popovich used Anderson as more of a power forward with limited on-ball usage. While Anderson’s offensive game was forced to change, he also developed a knack for being a high-level on-ball defender.
Anderson’s signing with the Grizzlies was a bit of a surprise, and his tenure with the home team started off a little rocky. After an early achilles injury that limited him in the preseason, Anderson found himself coming off the bench in a reserve role. He would struggle to find his way with the team even after gaining the starting spot after the now-departed Chandler Parsons began to experience knee soreness.
As of late, Anderson has picked up his game, and despite his nickname, “Slow Mo,” he has quickly become a necessary component of lineups that lead to success. He is far from being a great shooter — especially from three-point range, only shooting 27 percent on the season — but Anderson has a knack for scoring around the basket and has been much more assertive since being allowed to be on the ball more this season.
Defensively, he has been outstanding. Though he's Limited athletically, Anderson's high basketball IQ, combined with his elite-level hand instincts and reactions, allows him to work angles and create turnovers. He was one of the team's best rebounders during a crucial period where rebounding was a prime need, and his ability to find and feed rookie stud Jaren Jackson Jr. is unmatched among his team-members. (Not to mention, it brings cheer to the fanbase that wants to see Jackson emerge as more of a scoring threat.)
In Wednesday night's 96-86 victory over his former Spurs team, Anderson didn’t have a monster game, or even a revenge game, but he had the type of Kyle Anderson game that we have come to expect — one that's relatively low scoring, mixed with timely plays and defensive highlights. This was most evident in a highlight-reel lob pass and finish by his favorite target, Jackson Jr., late in the second quarter, and an insane block of a Bryn Forbes shot with 4:47 remaining in the game.
That sequence was typical Kyle Anderson, as he missed a free throw on one end, got back on defense for a chase down block, and started off a break that led to a Mike Conley layup that made the score 91-77, basically sealing the deal on the victory.
Anderson will never be a knockdown shooter, he won’t blow by anyone on his way to the basket or amaze you with his offensive aesthetics, but he does things that pass the eye test — and fill the spreadsheet — that contribute to winning. When the Grizzlies are making a run and playing good basketball, it's more than likely that Anderson will be on the floor. Regardless of his deficiencies, he's looks to be a player you would want to keep throughout this transitional season and the imminent rebuild.
His game won’t wow you, although you will get a kick out of noticing that he actually appears faster during slow motion replays than in real time. Go look it up. It’s a real thing and it’s low-key awesome. Sort of like what he brings to the table for this team.
Don’t blink, (well you actually might have time to blink a lot) because Slow-Mo is making things happen faster than you think!