Ryan Anderson: Rookie Roller Coaster
May 12, 2009
By Patrick Rees -- NJNETS.COM
East Rutherford, N.J.—Most rookies enter their first NBA season not knowing exactly what to expect. Despite the outpouring of advice from agents, college coaches, NBA general managers and current NBA players, a rookie can’t grasp what it means to play in the league until they do exactly that. It was no different for Nets forward Ryan Anderson.
The University of California product endured numerous ups and downs during a season in which his playing time ranged from starting one game to not playing the next. No one recognized this more than Nets head coach Lawrence Frank:
“I think Ryan went through the normal rookie learning curve: playing, not playing, starting, being a rotation player. You have to learn to be flexible and adjust and be ready and prepared to realize it’s not about what’s fair to you, it what’s fair to the team.”
As with most rookies, Anderson needed to adjust to a shift in his playing time.
“It’s been different, of course coming from college and playing all the time to arriving here and not being sure if you’re in the rotation or not,” Anderson said.
Anderson was aware setting goals would be crucial to achieving success, especially entering a new situation. He set out to get acclimated, feel comfortable on the team and capably fit his role, whatever that might be. And after appearing in 66 games, Anderson feels he came close to accomplishing those goals, aided by the presence of fellow rookie and California native Brook Lopez, strong veteran leadership (who got the team in the gym early and often throughout the summer) and also the team’s trip to France and England as a part of NBA Europe Live 2008.
“We got together as a team really early in the preseason,” Anderson said. “We got to know each other, and we bonded quickly. Also, the Euro trip was a big team-bonding time for us. Everyone got to know each other a little bit more and got to see how we could play as a unit. Those were our first preseason games and it was a new environment where we all formed good relationships.”
Anderson, selected 21st overall in the 2008 NBA Draft, was touted as a fundamentally sound big man (he stands 6-foot-10) with outside range. Anderson earned his fair share of the spotlight, starting 30 games for the Nets. The Sacramento native averaged 7.4 points and 4.7 rebounds in 19.9 minutes per contest while shooting .365 (69-189) from three-point range and .393 (160-407) overall. Anderson played especially well during the first month of the season, averaging 7.9 points on .427 shooting (.419 from downtown) in November. Through the first 11 games, he ranked second in the league with a .625 (10-of-16) three-point percentage.
But after recording seven DNP-CD’s through the first 37 games, Anderson received the opportunity to consistently contribute when starting power forward Yi Jianlian went down with a broken pinkie finger during the January 9th matchup at Milwaukee. Anderson made his first career start in the following game (January 12th against Oklahoma City), and played well, scoring six points and grabbing nine rebounds (five of them offensive) in 27 minutes.
With Yi out of the lineup, Anderson started 19 consecutive games and was a reliable offensive option at the 4. That stretch was highlighted by six double-figure point totals as well as one double-double and five nine-rebound games. It encompassed an especially impressive three-game run at the beginning of February, when Anderson averaged 16.7 points and 9.3 rebounds against Milwaukee, Washington and Denver. His best performance came on February 3rd against the Bucks, when he tallied 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting (3-5 3Ps), along with seven rebounds, two steals and one block in 39 minutes.
Anderson’s confidence grew as the season progressed and his role with the team became more defined. When a coach puts a rookie onto the floor, he wants to know that the other four players are confident in his skills and ability to execute the game plan.
“He’s a young player -- 20 years old -- and I think he has done very, very well,” Frank said. “I think he brings another energy element to our team. He’s a guy who gets us extra possessions in terms of getting offensive rebounds, and he’s getting better off the dribble at making plays - not just for himself, but for his teammates. I think he has done a lot of good things and been a part of a lot of good experiences.”
Said Anderson: “As a rookie, you need to fill your role and accept what you are on this team. I really think my experience level has gotten a lot better and my confidence is a lot stronger. I think defensively, as the season went on, I progressed. I think there’s a lot of room for me to improve in a lot of aspects of my game, but those are areas where I saw my game go to the next level.”
The next step for the 20-year-old will be enjoying some time off before working hard in the gym. Anderson will be working out with Gus Armstead, a personal trainer in Sacramento, and wants to improve his quickness and agility while adding moves such as the one dribble pull-up to his offensive arsenal. Anderson turned 21 on May 6 and planned on spending the big day in Las Vegas with a group of close friends. After returning from the desert, he plans to go on a backpacking and hiking trip to the Grand Canyon with his father. Anderson has committed to playing for the Nets in the Orlando Pro Summer League in early July and looks forward to getting back on the floor.
The Nets are high on Anderson’s abilities, believing him to be a core member of this young team as it progresses toward future success. Anderson experienced his fair share of ups and downs during his rookie season, but was often able to perform at a high level and earn the trust of his coach and teammates. He expects the team to build upon this year’s foundation.
“I think we are going to grow even further as a team,” Anderson said. “We have a lot of young guys on this team, so we are going to build with experience. I think guys are going to work a lot on their game this summer, get stronger, and we’re going to come in even more ready next season, because we know what to expect. We know what the NBA game is like now. I think experience is going to be a big thing for this team.”
The Nets and their fans are hoping that ‘big thing’ translates to ‘big wins.’