Sometimes, a basketball player’s fortunes are not entirely under their own control.
Before being acquired by the Rockets in 2009, his NBA rights were essentially held hostage by the Atlanta Hawks for seven years. For several years, Andersen was indisputably regarded as one of the best big men in Europe and dreamed of playing in the NBA.
The Hawks never gave him that chance in Atlanta and, despite offers from several NBA teams, refused to trade his rights for fear of being embarrassed if he excelled elsewhere.
“I just wish they would give me a straight answer either way," Andersen told Jonathan Givony of Draftexpress.com before the Hawks eventually released him to the Rockets.
“Every year it’s the same thing. If they want me, great, but if not, I would like to go play somewhere else. I can’t force the tender and go play on a non-guaranteed minimum contract, but I don’t think I’m asking for crazy money either.”
The Rockets eventually convinced the Hawks to trade Andersen for cash and a future second-round draft pick. The Rockets signed Andersen to a two-year deal worth $4.8 million. The contract also includes a team option for a third year worth $2.7 million. Hardly "crazy money" considering the tallest player on the Rockets roster at the time was 6’9”.
After a long wait, the Australian big man was finally given his NBA chance.
On Sunday night, it was Andersen who became the unlikely sidekick to emerging point guard Aaron Brooks and sparked the Houston Rockets to a win against the rival Los Angeles Lakers.
After sitting for the first quarter, Andersen hit a layup just 10 seconds into the second period. It was a sign of things to come for the 29-year-old rookie as he scored on an array of jump shots, including a three-pointer from the top of the arc to put the Rockets up 47-45 with under three minutes remaining in the half. Andersen finished the second quarter with 13 points.
With the Rockets clinging to a seven-point lead (80-73) after three quarters, the Lakers needed a quick start to the fourth quarter if they were to mount a late game surge. It was Andersen however, who got the jump on the Lakers, scoring six straight unanswered points to start the quarter. His quick-fire start pushed the Rockets’ lead to 13 points amid boos for the home team at the Staples Center.
The Lakers would never recover and were beaten 101-91.
Andersen finished the game with a career-high 19 points on 9-of-14 shooting while also grabbing six rebounds in the win.
"We obviously didn't know the scouting report that well on Andersen," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We knew he's a shooter, but we didn't see him play at that level."
Andersen, like his gritty teammates, was merely playing within his role on a team made up of players known more for their determination and tenacity than their overall physical talents.
"(Andrew) Bynum didn't want to come out there and that's my job to knock down the shot," the laid-back Australian said nonchalantly.
Andersen is well aware that he possess neither the interior skills, nor the size necessary to fill the 7’6” void left by Yao Ming’s absence. He understands his role within the team and has no intention of straying from his strengths.
"For me it's a matter of fitting in the team and finding my spot," Andersen explained to Bill Ingram of Hoopsworld.com.
"Right now I'm learning to just get after the rebounds, shoot the ball when I'm open, and different things the team needs. I've been talking to the coaches and getting their thoughts on where I need to be and what I need to do to play more. Hopefully my teammates will get more confidence in me as I grow as a player and a person and do what I need to do to stay on the floor a bit longer and help the team to win."
When Andersen has been on the floor a bit longer, he’s been producing. In the three games in which he's played 15 minutes or more, his averages stand at 14.3 points and 5.3 rebounds on 52.9 percent field goal shooting and 83.3 percent free throw shooting in just 21 minutes per game.
When those numbers are extrapolated into starters’ minutes, his numbers start to look impressive. At 30 minutes per game, his averages would be 18.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game At 35 minutes per game, the figures jump to 20.0 points and 7.4 rebounds.
With more performances like his impressive stint on Sunday night, Andersen's time on the floor should stand to increase towards the ‘little bit longer’ he is hoping for.
It hasn’t been the easiest route to get to Houston, but David Andersen is capitalizing on each opportunity he gets. He’s turning his limited chances into productive contributions.
The scrappy Rockets are often said to "achieve the most with the least," so making the most of limited opportunities is a familiar sentiment for many of Andersen's new associates.
You know ... associates like Mr. Scola, Mr. Battier, Mr. Ariza, Mr. Brooks, Mr. Hayes, Mr. Landry, Mr. Lowry, and Mr. Budinger.
It seems Mr. Andersen's going to fit in just fine.
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