MikeCheck: Grizzlies coaches, teammates envision Anderson at four positions as ‘needed and complete’ fit
LAS VEGAS – Moments after signing his free-agent contract with the Grizzlies at the team’s summer league hotel, Kyle Anderson glanced into a video camera and emphasized he couldn’t wait to get back to Memphis to join the Grit and Grind movement.
That anticipation is reciprocal.
There’s a set of new coaches and teammates already charting ways to incorporate Anderson’s unique versatility as the Grizzlies plan for the start of training camp in September. A 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward who spent the past four seasons with the Spurs, Anderson is expected to play as many as four positions as the Grizzlies calibrate a lineup enhanced by 18-year-old lottery pick Jaren Jackson Jr. and anchored by veteran catalysts Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.
There are few coaches in the league more familiar than Chad Forcier with what the Grizzlies are getting in their latest free-agent acquisition. Forcier, the Grizzlies' new assistant head coach, was on the Spurs’ staff when Anderson was drafted with the No. 30 pick in 2014 after one season at UCLA.
“Contrary to how people might perceive him, I’ve loved him even as a point guard,” Forcier said. “You think of a different iteration of Ben Simmons in terms of size at six-nine. (Anderson) doesn’t have the same explosiveness, speed or athleticism, but he has the vision and instincts. He’s a multiple position player, especially offensively. You can move him around the lineup and play him at four spots.”
Forcier primarily oversaw player development in San Antonio and worked with Anderson during the player’s first two seasons in the league before he took a lead assistant position in Orlando. Forcier spent two years with the Magic before arriving earlier this summer on J.B. Bickerstaff’s bench.
The familiarity and connections should benefit the Grizzlies. Coming off a career season in San Antonio, Anderson is expected to start at small forward in Memphis. Metrically, he rated as one of the NBA’s top defenders at his position last season and should fit seamlessly into the Grizzlies’ scheme.
But after taking over in November on an interim basis and then signing a multiyear deal as head coach earlier this summer, Bickerstaff will get his first opportunity to spend considerable time with his new staff the next two months crafting and tweaking offensive schemes.
With 16 traditional contract commitments or agreements in place, the Grizzlies will also have to make at least one more move to trim the roster to the NBA maximum of 15 before the regular season starts.
Forcier sees Anderson as a “utility type” player who can use his size, strength and methodical game – he’s nicknamed ‘SlowMo’ because of his deliberate pace – to maintain a variety of roles. With the Spurs last season, Anderson started 67 of his 74 games amid Kawhi Leonard’s prolonged injury absence and averaged 7.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 steals in 26.7 minutes. Anderson shot an impressive 52.7-percent overall from the field, but a modest 33.3-percent on threes.
Anderson falls short of clearly addressing needs for a volume scorer and three-point shooter for a team that ranked at or near the bottom of the NBA in both categories. But his playmaking gives Memphis another vital option along with Gasol to facilitate when Conley is used as a primary scorer.
He’s improved his jumpshot. He’s just not a natural-born, instinctual shooter. He doesn’t have a shooter’s psyche. But he can make shots. His natural instinct isn’t to take (long-range) shots. But he’s a better shooter than people think.-- Chad Forcier
“He’s worked his way into a meaningful role over the course of time,” Forcier said of Anderson, who has made 49 of 145 career three-point attempts. “He’s improved his jumpshot. He’s just not a natural-born, instinctual shooter. He doesn’t have a shooter’s psyche. But he can make shots. His natural instinct isn’t to take (long-range) shots. But he’s a better shooter than people think.”
Conley has watched from afar as Anderson’s role gradually increased the past two seasons in San Antonio. Conley ultimately appreciates how Anderson plays to his strengths. His best game against the Grizzlies came two seasons ago in the playoffs, when he made six of seven shots, scored 15 points and had three assists off the bench in a Game 3 loss during the Spurs’ first-round series win.
There’s also a mutual respect and high level of credibility that come with having played for the Spurs. Anderson’s age (24), versatility on both ends of the court and pedigree were among the reasons the Grizzlies signed him to a four-year, $37.2 million contract with the full midlevel exception.
The deal comes on the heels of last month’s draft, when the Grizzlies added Jackson with the fourth overall pick and Jevon Carter early in the second round. All three are expected to contribute to the rotation immediately. If Jackson and Carter are viewed as building blocks for the immediate future, Anderson is seen by veteran teammates as a proven commodity in the Grizzlies' quest to rebound from missing the playoffs for the first time in eight years after a 22-60 season.
“He’s another smart player,” Conley told Grind City Media of Anderson. “He’s very much a guy who knows his limitations, he plays within himself and won’t try to do too much. Guys like that don’t tend to make a lot of mistakes. He affects the game in all aspects. And that’s what we need – a guy who is complete, like he is, and who makes the team better in so many different ways.”
Like Forcier, power forward JaMychal Green also has previous experience working with Anderson. They were teammates with the Spurs’ G League team during the 2014-15 season before Green joined the Grizzlies. What Green remembers during their developmental season together was a player who made his mark with defense, intangibles and work ethic more so than with speed and athleticism.
He was a great defensive player even then. And now, after improving the way he has, coming to us, with our mindset also being a defensive team, he’s going to help us out a lot. He’s a crafty player at getting into the lane and making things happen, making the extra pass. And he’s a good finisher.-- JaMychal Green
“Kyle always played hard and everything with him started with effort on defense,” Green said. “He was a great defensive player even then. And now, after improving the way he has, coming to us, with our mindset also being a defensive team, he’s going to help us out a lot. He’s a crafty player at getting into the lane and making things happen, making the extra pass. And he’s a good finisher.”
But the key to Anderson’s acquisition is more about how the Grizzlies hope to start.
“We want somebody to come in that’s ready from day one,” Green continued. “It’s always good to get vets, and he’s a good young vet that’s very experienced. With the season we had last year, we want to hit the ground running fast, jump into the season on a good note and not start off bad.”
Those typically aren’t terms associated with Anderson. But the larger point is clear: The Grizzlies expect Anderson to contribute to immediate success in his own, unique, deliberate, effective way.
“It’s not always going to glisten and shine,” Forcier said. “It’s not always going to be sexy. It’s not necessarily going to always result in a stat. But he’s going to make the right play far more times than not. He’s going to make winning plays.”
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