Sharpshooting Ryan Anderson Has Quickly Become Rockets' X-Factor

Maurice Bobb@@ReeseReportFeatured ColumnistNovember 3, 2016

BEIJING, CHINA - OCTOBER 12: Ryan Anderson #3 of the Houston Rockets shoots against Dante Cunningham #33 of the New Orleans Pelicans as part of the 2016 Global Games - China at LeSports Center on October 12, 2016 in Beijing, China. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)
Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

"Let me fix my hair real quick."

That was Ryan Anderson, fielding a cadre of reporters in front of his locker after the Houston Rockets held on for a 93-92 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in their home opener Sunday night.

Anderson, with television cameras and microphones cued up, was aware of appearances. Because everything matters now.

Here in a new city, with a new team, a new head coach and new fans, every little bit matters. But mostly this: Can he be the reliable stretch 4 Houston needs to make a deep postseason run?

After securing the best coif of the night, Anderson is back, laughing and offering up one-liners to the throng before earnestly answering questions about his gritty, double-double performance.

"It’s fun to play in this environment," said Anderson, who finished that game with 14 points and 12 rebounds in 32 minutes of action.

"Having fans rooting for you instead of against you. Teams are going to try and take me out from the perimeter and not give me open looks anywhere. I have to be super active, and I was active tonight on the glass, and I created hustle buckets, things like that to get myself and the team going."

Oct 30, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Ryan Anderson (3) dribbles the ball as Dallas Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes (40) defends during the second quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

That sums up Anderson. He's affable, he’s goofy, he’s jubilant and he’s accountable.

After posting only five points and four rebounds in 25 minutes in the Rockets’ 106-98 victory Friday night, Anderson realized he’d laid an egg in response to the Mavericks’ game plan to move him off the three-point line. He then punished them inside, getting defensive rebounds (eight), muscling in for putbacks and putting Harrison Barnes in the spin cycle on the wing.

"That was good," Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said. "He found another way to be effective. He did what he’s supposed to do, punish them inside and got to the rim. He’ll have to have both gears. Depends who’s on him, but that’s good about Ryan, he rebounds the ball extremely well, and he can get in the post."

Anderson struggled somewhat again during Tuesday's 128-120 track-meet loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He went 4-of-12 from the field, but all his makes were from the ever-valuable three-point land. 

That performance notwithstanding, and despite the perception to the contrary, Anderson is no one-trick pony.

Sure, general manager Daryl Morey signed the sweet-shooting forward this past summer to the tune of $80 million over four years to light it up from behind the arc. But as stretch 4s such as Draymond Green and Tobias Harris continue to revolutionize the power forward position, Anderson will be tasked with being a consistent inside-outside threat.

"We really saw Ryan as the perfect spacing 4 in the league," Morey said back in July. "Not only is he an elite shooter, he’s got more game than that. There’s a lot of switching in the league now, and he can attack switches as well. He’s someone who’s got a versatile offensive game."

But how good of a shooter is Anderson, really?

Last season, he hit 37.6 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, which he shot with a 31.4 percent frequency, and had an effective field-goal percentage of 54.8 coming off screens, so he should flourish in the pick-and-pop with James Harden.

It’s still early, but Anderson is already shooting 41 percent on long balls. After dropping four from deep in Cleveland, he went 4-of-9 from downtown, finishing with 16 points and nine boards in Wednesday night's 118-99 win over the New York Knicks. Clearly, like his stellar 2011-12 season, when he led the NBA in made three-pointers (166) and was voted Most Improved Player, the range is always there.

Now that he's a major cog in D’Antoni’s free-flowing, pace-and-space scoring machine, the opportunities to let it fly will come fast and furious.

"I’m looking at shooting about 90 percent this season," Anderson said, laughing. "The staff has a lot of confidence in me. I’m just gonna shoot the ball. Hopefully I shoot it well, I’m gonna try to shoot it well. Some nights I’m not going to, some nights I will, just how it is. I think taking open shots and having those open looks, that helps the team overall because it gives us opportunities for offensive rebounds. That’s a good shot for us."

According to D’Antoni, offense for Anderson won’t be a problem. But here's the thing: With the spread floor rotations, Anderson, who may take some time to pass the eye test as a defender, will often find himself shadowing smaller, quicker guards on the perimeter rather than defending bigs at the rim.

Luckily for him, though, when he gets beat, center Clint Capela will be there with the help defense in the paint.

"I think with the guards in the league nowadays, I think most bigs don’t want to chase those guys around," Anderson said. "But I understand you gotta do what you gotta do. There’s gonna be a lot of times where we’re going to be in switch situations where you have to help your teammate, you have to help your guard, and we have a great system in place where we have to help each other out a lot. You gotta be ready for everything."

SHANGHAI, CHINA - OCTOBER 9: Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives against Ryan Anderson #3 of the Houston Rockets as part of the 2016 Global Games - China at the Mercedes Benz Arena on October 9, 2016 in Shanghai, China. NOTE TO USER: User
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

While with the New Orleans Pelicans, Anderson averaged four defensive rebounds per outing and held opponents to 57 percent from the field while defending at the rim. That’s nowhere near where he needs to be. For him to be effective, especially with opponents looking to lure him down on the block on the defensive side of the ball, he’ll have to get that number down to the low 50s, maybe even high 40s.

"There’s great power forwards in this league, guys that can really score the ball," Anderson said. "Defensively, we have to focus on transition and getting back, it’s a desire, it’s a decision, you have to outwill your opponent, we have to get that in our minds. It’s a challenge every night, whether it’s a guy that’s a hustle guy or a guy that can stretch the floor and shoot.

"There’s a ton of balanced 4s right now, and for me, I want to take that personal challenge. I want to step up and work on myself defensively, just get better in that department and offensively just continue to be aggressive and shoot the ball."

    

Rockets Insider’s Notebook

The Rockets Have Options

The Rockets have decided to exercise their fourth-year option on Capela and their third-year option on forward Sam Dekker.

Capela, who has taken over the mantle as the team’s starting center, is averaging a team-high 7.6 rebounds through the first five games. The Switzerland native's improved play and burgeoning role in the pick-and-roll with Harden more than validates the team's extended investment.

Dekker, who was selected 18th overall in the 2015 NBA draft, scored nine points in the Rockets' home opener Sunday on 3-of-3 shooting from behind the arc. His penchant for draining the long ball and his overall hustle play ensures that he'll continue to get minutes at the stretch 4 position in D'Antoni's spread-floor offense.

    

Onuaku the Viper

Rockets rookie center Chinanu Onuaku has been assigned to the team’s single-affiliation NBA D-League partner, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

Onuaku, who garnered national attention for his underhanded granny shot at the free-throw line, hasn’t played in any of the regular-season games and averaged two points and 2.8 rebounds a game during the preseason.

The Louisville product is still raw, so he'll get an opportunity to fine-tune his low-post game with extended playing time via the Vipers. With Nene's history of injuries, Onuaku will likely volley between the two squads all season.

    

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats accurate as of November 2 and courtesy of NBA.com/Stats.

Maurice Bobb covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ReeseReport

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