I've gone sleepless nights trying to decide whether UCLA's Kyle Anderson has a game built to succeed at the NBA level. He's just so hard to peg, simply because of the unprecedented blend of physical tools and skills he brings to the table.
For every pro, there seems to be a con attached to Anderson's evaluation. And at this point, it's tough to decide how to weigh each one.
Scouts appear to be split as well, with some buying into him and others selling hard.
Whether you're a fan or not, it's impossible not to be intrigued with what Anderson has done at UCLA. He averaged 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists as a sophomore. When you consider these numbers were produced by a 6'9" point guard in the Pac-12, it actually sounds too good to be true.
And it probably is, unless you believe that Anderson is the next Magic Johnson.
But there's a hole in Anderson's makeup, and one that's likely to raise questions until a definitive answer reveals itself.
He has abnormally slow feet and minimal athleticism for a ball-handler.
And ball-handlers play on the perimeter—the quickest area on the floor. Anderson moves more like an awkward 7-footer than a point guard—but so far, his slow-motion approach hasn't kept him from picking everyone apart.
“People doubt me all the time because maybe I’m too slow, maybe I’m not athletically gifted,” Anderson told Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times. “I look forward to proving them wrong. [They said] my slow, methodical game wasn’t going to work at the college level. I pretty much do whatever I want on the court this season.”
He's right. His athletic limitations haven't hurt him one bit against high school or college competition. Anderson makes up for quickness with timeliness, thanks to a mean hesitation dribble he uses to keep his man on his hip.
If Anderson is ultimately able to tap into his strengths as a passer and scorer without letting the speed of the NBA game overwhelm, his best-case pro comparison is to former star Jalen Rose.
Rose, a 6'8" point forward, had the ability to take over games while facilitating the offense. He once had a 22-point, 20-assist game for the Indiana Pacers, a reflection of his mesmerizing versatility with the ball.
Over the past year, Anderson has really improved as a scorer, both as a shot-creator and shot-maker. He's worked on the step-back jumper, pull-up jumper and runner (jogger) off one foot, and for the most part, he nailed a pretty high percentage of them as a sophomore. He even hit 28 three-pointers (shooting 48.3 percent from beyond the arc) after making just eight total as a freshman.
And though he did it at his own pace, Anderson flashed similar offensive skills to that which Rose used to score a whole lot of NBA points. Still, it was Rose's vision and passing instincts that ultimately set him apart.
Anderson has those instincts and vision, along with the size that makes it easy to use them. He plays right over the defense, both with his eyes and his hands. And though he might not be as quick to the rack as Rose, at 230 pounds, he's got a strong, physical frame to shield his man from the ball.
Only four times did Anderson fail to notch five assists in a game this season. He dishes on the move, standing still, in traffic or on the break.
Regardless of how well his scoring game translates, Anderson will always have his basketball IQ and top-shelf passing instincts. And that's why we'll make a worst-case comparison between Anderson and journeyman Boris Diaw.
Diaw has made a career as a glue guy. He scores a little, rebounds a little and passes a little. His job is to essentially do whatever each particular possession calls for.
Though not the fastest, most athletic or most nimble, Diaw has thrived by playing within an offense and complementing bigger scorers and playmakers.
He even averaged 6.2 assists a game one season in Phoenix.
If worst comes to worst, Anderson still can pose as a role-playing glue guy who can do a little facilitating from the wing, shooting from outside and rebounding around the rim.
But no matter which way you slice it, Anderson doesn't project as a plus defender. In fact, defense might be the biggest threat to his NBA minutes.
If it turns out that Anderson just isn't a fit on the wing, and that the only way for him to make an impact is with the ball in his hands, a worst-case point guard comparison could look something like Shaun Livingston, who has that terrific size and handle to go with an average floor game and scoring touch.
With the Final Four approaching, Anderson's draft projections are all over the map, given nobody is even sure exactly what his pro position will be. He could probably go anywhere from top 10 to late first round.
At the end of the day, whether Anderson turns out to be a star point guard, a dynamic point forward, a backup or a glue guy, he just has too many promising basketball strengths for his slow feet to weigh him down too much.
Anderson fits somewhere in the NBA game—it might take a little trial and error, but if I'm a head coach, I'm going to find a way to incorporate Anderson's game into my offense.
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