The San Antonio Spurs selected Kyle Anderson with the No. 30 overall pick in the 2014 draft, and his rise hasn't exactly been meteoric. As longtime San Antonio Express-News writer Buck Harvey put it in June, "Exactly one year later, his future is still a mystery."
That mystery is really no fault of Anderson's. It had more to do with a previously crowded wing rotation in which the UCLA product found few opportunities. The versatile 6'9" forward only appeared in 33 contests with the Spurs last season, alternating between the NBA Development League and a roster that had plenty of options at its forward positions.
|Anderson's 2014-15 Production in NBA and D-League|
His modest NBA-level production (2.2 points and 2.2 rebounds per game) said little about his skill level and more about San Antonio's depth. Anderson himself indeed remained a mystery.
But that may be changing. Anderson was named the 2015 Summer League MVP on Sunday, the same day San Antonio advanced to the Finals matchup in Las Vegas.
The Summer-League Evidence
Anderson opened eyes during San Antonio summer-league stints in Utah and Las Vegas this month, averaging 19 points, 6.4 rebounds, two assists, 1.5 steals and one block per contest in eight appearances (with at least one contest remaining in Vegas at time of publication). That consistency probably hasn't been coincidental.
"He's put in a ton of work with [shooting coach] Chip Engelland, with [development coach] Chad Forcier during our NBA season," Spurs assistant and summer-league head coach Becky Hammon said, per NBA.com's Steve Aschburner. "He's been in the gym a lot."
"He knows our system the best [among summer leaguers], he knows those conversations that coaches have had with him and what's expected of him, and he has absolutely stepped up and taken control of that," she continued. "We're happy with what he's doing right now. We're going to keep leaning on him a lot."
Anderson has earned as much, and he hasn't done it with production alone. He's also doing the little things that could well assure him a more prominent role in San Antonio this season. That much was apparent during a recent meeting with the Brooklyn Nets in which Anderson contested a late (and potentially game-tying) three-point attempt by Markel Brown in order to seal the win.
"On that last defensive possession, he's the one who rallied everybody on the court," Hammon added from Vegas, per Aschburner. "He's the one who's speaking, he's the one being more demonstrative in a leadership role. And that's really what we want to see from him in this setting."
Anderson has accepted the challenge. He tallied 21 points and five rebounds in just 23 minutes in Saturday's quarterfinal win against the Boston Celtics, an efficient and assertive display in which he made it to the free-throw line at least seven times for the fifth consecutive game.
"It's been great for me," Anderson said after the game, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Steve Carp. "My teammates have made it easy for me to be in a leadership role. I think my experience from last year helps me, and they look to me to show them the way. I have a lot better understanding of the game and what I need to do to work on in order to become a more complete player."
Steady growth. It's the kind of maturation process one expects from young players, particularly ones playing for deep, successful franchises. The Spurs are taking their time with Anderson, and they can afford to. Fortunately, he understands that, admitting he won't be a leading scorer during the regular season.
"It's nice, but that's not what they're going to ask me to do once the season starts," Anderson said this week, per Carp. "I'm trying to get my shots in the context of our offense and not force anything. I don't want to pick up any bad habits here."
Anderson is saying and doing all the right things. And in time, it should pay off.
The Next Phase
In summer-league context, Anderson is something of a veteran.
With the Spurs' full-time team, he's anything but. The hope is that extra seasoning from summer-league and D-League exposure will equip Anderson to adopt a more consistent complementary role for San Antonio this season. He won't be a starter, and he'll rarely approach that 20-point mark. But he could still serve as valuable depth, particularly at the 3 spot behind reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard.
Swingman Marco Belinelli opted to sign with the Sacramento Kings this summer, so the Spurs have a real need for help on the wing. The organization signed 6'6" Houston product Jonathan Simmons this summer, but Anderson is the more polished prospect for now.
Simmons spent two seasons in the NBA Development League after going undrafted in 2012. He could certainly make an impact, but his climb to playing time will be steeper than Anderson's.
After contemplating retirement, Manu Ginobili will continue to see time at the 2 and 3 spots as well. But he'll be 38 when the season starts, and he's unlikely to play significant minutes after averaging fewer than 25 per contest in each of the last four seasons.
Moreover, neither Simmons nor Ginobili is 6'9". Anderson's length could make a difference in head coach Gregg Popovich's estimation, particularly in the event of matchups against similarly long opposition. Physical tools alone won't win Anderson any jobs, but they're still a unique asset when comparing him with the alternatives. And there's reason to believe Anderson is learning how to use those tools, particularly on the defensive end, where he's thrived this summer.
"You can learn a lot defensively by watching tape," Hammon said this week, per Aschburner. "A lot of it, it's just footwork and concentration. There are simple things, like angles, little things that maybe you can compensate for your lack of speed or athleticism. There are lots of ways to get better defensively other than doing slides in the gym."
Despite the improvement, there are still holes in Anderson's game. True to his nickname, his ascent hasn't been an overnight sensation. Like his play, it's been methodical instead, and the most obvious limitation has been from the perimeter.
Despite a nice touch from mid-range, Anderson has struggled mightily from three-point range. He made 27.3 of his three-point attempts last season with the team (and just 31.1 percent of his three-point attempts in 31 D-League appearances).
The numbers haven't improved this summer either. Anderson has only made 22.5 percent of his long-range attempts in Utah and Las Vegas, casting at least temporary doubt on his effectiveness as a floor-spacer.
Failure to improve on the shooting front could jeopardize Anderson's playing time this season. San Antonio relies heavily on the three-point shot, virtually necessitating swingmen with ample range. One solution may be using Anderson as the primary ball-handler. ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton elaborated:
The tricky part of fitting Anderson into the Spurs' rotation is that he needs the ball in his hands to be most effective. He's not yet a catch-and-shoot threat, so San Antonio can't simply stick him in the corner like many of its wings. But with limited depth on the perimeter, the Spurs might be able to have Anderson initiate the offense while playing with backup point guard Patty Mills.
Anderson could also conceivably see minutes in the paint at power forward, but there won't be many left in a rotation that now includes LaMarcus Aldridge, David West and Boris Diaw. If Anderson wants to play consistently, he'll either have to knock down some perimeter shots or master his playmaking instincts.
Those aren't insurmountable tasks by any means. The 21-year-old has undeniably elevated his all-around game, and the three-point shot may be next. It would complete a versatile game that's drawn comparisons to Diaw and other point forward types.
That package is an exciting possibility looking forward. It's harder to say what it means for this season, though. The second-year talent hasn't finished his slow-motion development just yet, and he has plenty of time to get there.