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Kyle Anderson Will Be a Star for the San Antonio Spurs This Season

Chazz Scogna@@chazzscognaFeatured ColumnistOctober 14, 2015

San Antonio Spurs guard Kyle Anderson, right, goes to the basket against Sacramento Kings forward Marco Belinelli during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. The Kings won 95-92. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

At first glance, Kyle Anderson isn't a likely candidate to jump into stardom this season with the San Antonio Spurs.

For one, the 22-year-old averaged 10 minutes a game as a rookie and only appeared in 33 games.

The second-year forward is also buried in the lineup of arguably the deepest team in the NBA. Newly added LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, with returning veterans like Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard, clog the wing and frontcourt positions best suited for Anderson.

I weighed him against other relative unknowns who could break out, like Clint Capela in Houston, Meyers Leonard in Portland and Tony Snell in Chicago, all players who are due more minutes than Anderson.

But my mind always came back to the Spurs and Anderson. San Antonio's pedigree is undeniable, including five championships since 1999 and 16 straight 50-win seasons.

So let's dig deeper, because, after some thought, the odds of Anderson becoming a star this year are not so crazy.

And it all revolves around the mad genius himself, head coach Gregg Popovich.

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Oct 12, 2015; Miami, FL, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich looks on during the first half against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Coaching in the NBA is considered overrated (especially for teams with LeBron James), unless you have a good coach. In that scope, Popovich reigns supreme.

Popovich operates at higher levels and at times benched players he felt were playing poorly. During the Spurs' championship run in 2014, in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against Oklahoma City, Popovich benched his starters midway through the third quarter, forfeiting the battle for a chance to win the war. 

The point is, Popovich feels zero loyalty to players' minutes, no matter how well they performed in the past or over their careers. If Popovich doesn't like what he sees, he changes it.

Further, Popovich plays a rotation that stretches the entire bench. Of the 17 players on the Spurs roster last season, 16 played in at least 20 games, with 14 of them averaging at least 10 minutes, per basketball-reference.com. 

With the additions of Aldridge and West, Anderson is most likely stuck to playing small forward for the season. 

Oct 8, 2015; Sacramento, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) dribbles the ball against the Sacramento Kings during the first quarter at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Leonard, slated as the starting wing in front of Anderson, averaged a team-high 31.8 minutes per game last year. That tied him for 50th in the NBA, behind the likes of other small forwards Luol Deng, Nicolas Batum and Joe Johnson, all players Leonard outperformed in 2014-15.

But Leonard also missed 18 games with a torn ligament in his hand, and Popovich isn't one to rush back his players. Despite their record without him, Popovich stayed the course and said Leonard would be back when he was ready.

In fact, Leonard hasn't played more than 66 games in a season his entire career, which could open up to 20 games worth of playing time for Anderson.

Popovich's actions over the years show he doesn't care about the regular season. He's famous (or infamous, if you're the NBA front office) for resting and benching his starters. Granted, it applies mostly to older veterans like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Duncan. He once sat Duncan under "DNP-OLD."

As far as he sees it, the benchings and the rotations are about saving players for the postseason. Leonard is arguably the second-best player on this roster and if the Spurs are up 20 or down 20, what is there to suggest that Popovich won't sit him? Leonard played less than 32 minutes last season during a ruthless stretch to bring the Spurs back into playoff contention. And he was the reigning Finals MVP!

Anderson isn't a second-year point guard in the West that will have to face Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Mike Conley Jr. and Chris Paul. He plays on the wing.

And small forward is thin across the league. True, some of the best players in the league—LeBron James Kevin Durant and (introducing) Andrew Wiggins—play at the three, but after them, the talent is scarce. Anderson will go up against the likes of Chandler Parsons, Trevor Ariza and Rudy Gay. His road to stardom is possible. 

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 12: Kyle Anderson #1 of the San Antonio Spurs drives to the basket against the Miami Heat during a preseason game on October 12, 2015 at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees th
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

So if the minutes are available, the landscape is right and Anderson gets his shot, can he take advantage? Well, he recently won the Summer League MVP award. I know what you're thinking, and you're right, "It is just summer league," but Anderson did have a line of 22.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.3 steals. He did what all NBA-ready players should do during summer league. He dominated.

He can shoot from three and is an above-average passer, making him prime for a Spurs teams that relies on spacing the floor and ball movement. At 6'9", Anderson could be a matchup problem for teams with smaller wings and could shift to power forward to provide more depth for Aldridge, West.

And ignore the issues with his speed. Zach Randolph and Paul Pierce (don't send that hate mail yet) are slow and have flourished in the NBA. Anderson isn't Randolph or Pierce, but a lack of speed isn't an implication of futility.

If the comparisons to Boris Diaw or Jalen Rose have any validity, then Anderson projects to play like a guy who averaged 20 points four times (Rose) and another who many considered the 2014 Finals MVP before Leonard took off (Diaw). 

So it's certainly possible that Kyle Anderson becomes the next impact player in San Antonio, the same way Leonard, Diaw and Danny Green found theirs playing for Popovich. Why can't it be this year?

And, to be honest, do you really want to bet against the Spurs?

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