Anderson Excited for Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout

By John Denton
February 24, 2012

ORLANDO – At some point Saturday night, Ryan Anderson plans to step back from the glitz and glamour of the NBA All-Star Game, briefly ignore the attention of the basketball world and attempt to savor the sweet irony of the moment.

After growing up in a non-sports family, being told he’d never play collegiately or professionally and so lightly regarded as a young player that he was never invited to any all-star camps or AAU showcases, Anderson will proudly take his place on basketball’s biggest stage.

His is a rise that’s so remarkable that even he is still amazed by it to this day. Could it actually be that the Orlando Magic power forward, the NBA’s leading 3-point shooter, is the favorite to win a marquee event such as the Foot Locker 3-Point Shootout? It’s a concept that still sounds a little strange to Anderson.

``In a lot of ways for me, it will all just be kind of surreal,’’ Anderson said. ``I might not even know what I’m doing out there. But I just know going it that it will be so surreal.’’

Of those surprised the most by Anderson’s climb is, well, the most surprising player in the NBA these days. Like Anderson, New York Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin grew up in Northern California and watched the metamorphosis of the small forward’s game from a very young age.

``I played against (Anderson) every single year. One year, he was like not really playing, coming off the bench and being a role player, and the next year he was way taller, shooting threes, posting up and a star,’’ Lin remembered. ``I remember just being so surprised at how quickly, once his body filled out and he got used to it, how quickly that he became the player that he is now. And he just continues to get better.’’

That he does. Anderson is one of the NBA’s leading candidates to win the Most Improved Player award after becoming the league’s top threat from the 3-point arc. Anderson hit the All-Star break leading the league in both 3-pointers made (99) and 3-pointers attempted (228). He’s boosted his scoring average more than six points a game and his rebounding average two boards a night.

That work landed Anderson a spot in the Foot Locker 3-Point Shootout where he will go against Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, Minnesota’s Kevin Love, Miami’s James Jones and Mario Chalmers and New Jersey’s Anthony Morrow. Anderson is hoping that shooting in the familiar surroundings of the Amway Center, his NBA home court with the Magic, will soothe some of his nerves.

``I guess it depends on how much the crowd is going to be rooting for me,’’ Anderson said sarcastically. ``Honestly, I think I’ll be a little more at ease out there. I’m shooting in front of people that I have played in front of for three years now. I’ve never done it before and I’m sure it’ll be a lot different than I think or expect. But as long as I have fun that’s all that matters.’’

Anderson’s inclusion in the 3-Point Shootout is where the irony is the juiciest. Even though he’s now one of the game’s best pure shooters, the 3-point contest will be Anderson’s first of any kind because he was an AAU afterthought and hardly recruited as a teenage player.

Anderson took advantage of the Magic’s off day in New Jersey on Tuesday, shooting balls from off a rack for the first time in years. He used a clock on the wall to time himself and said he actually made 20 of 25 shots during one circuit around the arc.

That sweet shooting stroke of his, one that is well-balanced and seemingly out a textbook, wasn’t always so picture perfect.

``Back then I shot the ball straight from the hip,’’ Anderson said. ``Eventually I moved it up to the shoulders and where I have it now, but I started having to shoot it from the hip. All I know is I wouldn’t survive a second in his contest shooting the ball from the hip the way that I used to.’’

Anderson will have a big fan in the competition Saturday night in Lin. It was a year ago when Lin was barely surviving in the NBA with the Golden State that Anderson was there to provide encouragement. Lin never forgot it, and now he’s hoping the player who continues to impress with his improvement wins the Shootout on basketball’s biggest stage.

``He gave me a lot of encouragement and advice in the past, and he’s just a great guy,’’ Lin said. ``He’s having a great year this year.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com

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