Denton: Anderson's Confidence Soaring

By John Denton
January 20, 2011


ORLANDO – Gilbert Arenas is the self-proclaimed ``best practice shooter in the world,’’ but he might not have known what he was up against on Thursday facing Ryan Anderson, easily the hottest and most confident shooter on the Orlando Magic right now.

Shooting five 3-pointers from five spots on the floor, Arenas made 19 of his 25 tries, leaving Anderson needing a five-for-five showing from the left corner with all eyes on him just for a tie.

A month earlier, when Anderson was down on his luck and glum over his position with the team, the contest likely would have been over. But on this day, with a completely different outlook on life following a triple-whammy streak of bad luck, Anderson was brimming with confidence. Naturally, he coolly made all five of his 3-point shots, sending teammates hooting and hollering with glee and Arenas somewhat flustered.

Arenas would win the tiebreaker – making four of five shots from 35 feet away – but the point was clear: Anderson is a much stronger, more confident shooter than ever following a rough patch in the season that he won’t soon forget.

``That was a tie. Those (tiebreaker shots) don’t count. Gilbert shoots those shots every day,’’ Anderson said playfully. ``They were under his terms and (Magic President of Basketball Operations) Otis (Smith) was passing horrible, so it was probably rigged. I’ll get him next time because I missed too many shots in a row. That will never happen the next time.’’

Anderson was able to boldly say that because of the toughness and ability to bounce back that he showed following a stretch in December that was shaping up as a lost season for the third-year pro.

Anderson spent all last summer in Orlando, working on improving his strength and explosiveness in hopes of earning more playing time at power forward this season. Seven games into the season, Anderson was a starter at power forward, but a rough start on Nov. 10 against Utah and Paul Millsap had Anderson out of the game after just 2 minutes and ultimately out of the playing rotation.

A team-wide illness crippled the Magic in early December and forced Anderson into action. But he didn’t even make it a minute that game before he badly sprained his right foot, an injury that put him on the shelf for nine more games.

Quietly, Anderson started to doubt himself and wonder where it all went wrong for him. He had planned that this would be his breakout season in the NBA, and when it didn’t happen because of that string of bad luck Anderson started questioning everything in his life.

``I’m going to explain it in a religious standpoint, but for me it was like God was knocking me on the head and telling me that this year was not going to go according to my plan,’’ Anderson said with a laugh. ``The whole summer I stayed here and worked my butt off and had this plan and vision of how everything would be. Then, all of this stuff happened and it was kind of like God saying, `This is my plan and I’m in control of it, so let it go.’ It was a tough thing to go through, but I look at it now as a big chapter in my life.’’

Clearly, that chapter made Anderson a tougher, more resilient player. Forced into a more prominent role after the Magic made two blockbuster trades, Anderson has responded over the past 14 games by averaging 12.7 points while shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 44.3 percent from 3-point range. He’s scored in double figures in 12 of the past 14 games and made at least three 3-pointers in each of the past five games. And he scored 20 points – one off his career high – in the Magic’s shocking 99-98 overtime defeat of Philadelphia on Wednesday night.

``He’s played very well and when you get consistent minutes you get a better opportunity,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``I think one thing that the trades showed is the confidence that we have in (Anderson and Brandon Bass) to be able to play. It created more opportunity for him and Brandon and they’ve played well.’’

Anderson’s improved defense and his focus on rebounding the basketball helped him to win his way back into Van Gundy’s rotation following his rough stretch early in the season. Anderson wasn’t vocal about his displeasure over being benched early in the season, but he said he took it very hard and let it affect his usually pleasant demeanor.

``It was tough and I’m not going to say that I was real positive and fought through it. It was a tough time and it really challenged me,’’ admitted Anderson, who is averaging 9.3 points and 4.4 rebounds in 17.7 minutes a game. ``Obviously people go through things so much harder than what I did, but in your world when you go through something where you get sick and hurt and you’re not playing, it’s hard to stay positive.

``It challenged my faith and for a long time I was just defining myself as a basketball player,’’ Anderson continued. ``I just learned that there’s a lot more to it and I’m a lot stronger for what happened. I’m actually kind of glad that it happened.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.