Denton: Anderson's Climb to the Top

By John Denton
February 16, 2012

ORLANDO – Were it not for a certain sensation out of New York sweeping the basketball world right now, Orlando Magic power forward Ryan Anderson might be the runaway favorite for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award with the way he’s dramatically boosted his scoring average and become the game’s most impressive 3-point shooter.

But since we’re talking about Jeremy Lin – and who isn’t these days after the way he’s taken the NBA by storm – there’s a connection between the New York Knicks’ guard and Anderson.

With both hailing from Northern California – Anderson from El Dorado Hills and Lin from Palo Alto – and being born just three months apart, they regularly played against one another in junior circuit leagues and AAU ball. And even though they both led their respective high schools to state titles as high school seniors, Anderson and Lin were told along the way they’d never be very good college players, much less make it to the NBA.

So when Anderson and Lin met back when Lin was still a member of the Golden State Warriors, they relived memories of their younger days and how they had defied the odds to get to the NBA.

``I recognized him and he recognized me and it was one of those `Remember me?’ type of moments,’’ Anderson said. ``He wasn’t playing back then, but I told him how happy I was for him because he had made a NBA roster. He was still sort of waiting for his chance. I still remember what a good player he was (as a teenager) and I knew he just needed a chance. Now, it’s just so exciting to see him play and I couldn’t be happier for him.’’

The same could be said for Anderson, who’s rise this season with the Magic (19-11) has been nearly as impressive as that of Lin. A reserve much of his first three seasons in the NBA, Anderson has been a big reason why Orlando is far and away the league’s most dangerous 3-point shooting team.

Heading into Friday’s game at the Amway Center against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Magic have made 39 more 3-pointers than any other team in the NBA. Leading the way, of course, is Anderson, who is first in the league in 3-pointers made (87) and attempted (200).

How dominant has Anderson been behind the line this season? When he made seven 3-pointers on Wednesday night in a rout of the Philadelphia 76ers, it was the second time this season that he’s done that. He made at least five 3-pointers in a game eight times – with three of those performances coming in February. His 87 3-pointers are only 19 fewer than the New Orleans Hornets have combined as a team. He is 24 threes up on Brandon Jennings and Anthony Morrow and 33 ahead of all-time 3-point king Ray Allen.

``Ryan Anderson is just such a tough cover,’’ Philly coach Doug Collins gushed Wednesday night following Anderson’s 27-point night. ``Any time that your (power forward) can stretch the floor like that, they are a tough team to defend.’’

The 3-point shots aren’t the only impressive numbers Anderson has put up. He’s second on the Magic in scoring at 16.6 points per game, up six points a game over last season. At 7.2 rebounds a game, he’s grabbing almost two more boards a game and he has the eighth most offensive rebounds in the league this season with 100.

And when the NBA All-Star weekend hits Orlando Feb. 24-26, Anderson will participate in the Foot Locker 3-Point Shootout. He said he’s honored to be participating in the same event that his favorite player of all-time, former Sacramento great Peja Stojakovic, won in 2002 and ’03.

Unlike most NBA players, it will be Anderson’s first 3-point shootout of any kind since he was mostly overlooked as a high school player in Northern California. Anderson said the invitations to camps and all-star games rarely came his way as a prep player, although he did eventually earn a scholarship to the University of California.

(On a side note, Anderson and Lin could have been teammates at Cal, but the Bears declined to give the point guard a scholarship. So, too, did Stanford even though Lin went to high school across a boulevard from the Cardinal’s campus in Palo Alto. He instead made it the NBA via Harvard.)

Even though Anderson made his first five shots, hit 70 percent of his 3-pointers and scored 27 points on Wednesday night, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy was somewhat critical of his power forward for getting only two rebounds in 29 minutes. Van Gundy wants Anderson to worry less about his shooting and do the things that will allow him to help the team on nights when shots aren’t dropping.

``I want the guy striving to be a great player and not just a shooter,’’ Van Gundy said. ``I think he has the capabilities of being even better than he is. I don’t mean to be killing him, but I want him to expect even more of himself.’’

Anderson said that’s just the tact he wants Van Gundy to take with him so that he never grows satisfied with what’s he’s accomplished so far. Anderson likes to tell the story of one of his childhood coaches telling him he’d never make it far in basketball, and he used that to fuel his fire while in high school, college and the NBA. Like Lin, Anderson has defied the odds to get to the top of his profession and he wants to keep pushing for more.

``I always want somebody to expect the best out of me and that’s what (Van Gundy) is doing. I don’t take it as criticism or anything negative,’’ Anderson said. ``I think that’s great that he does that because I want to be challenged as a player and I don’t want to ever be stagnant. I want to be challenged as good as I can be.’’

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at

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