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MikeCheck: Grizzlies relying on ‘Slow Mo’ Anderson’s unique style to fortify roster as prized free agent

by Michael Wallace | Grind City Media

LAS VEGAS – As an NBA player, Kyle Anderson is an acquired taste.

Nicknamed ‘Slow Mo’ because of his deliberate and moderate pace, Anderson doesn’t have a library of viral dunks or explosive plays out there on the internet.

The 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward’s impact is more like a marinade. Give it time to sink in, and it enhances just about anything. A city as flavorful as Memphis can certainly appreciate the slow-burn process. And the Grizzlies are confident they’ve found an ideal blend of versatility, basketball IQ and winning pedigree in Anderson, who was signed to a four-year, $37.2 million deal with the midlevel exception. 

Anderson, 24, signed an offer sheet with the Grizzlies on Friday as a restricted free agent. The deadline for the Spurs to match the offer to retain the fourth-year forward expired Sunday night, which completed Memphis' pursuit of one of team’s primary targets from the outset of free agency on July 1.

Coming off a career season in San Antonio, Anderson has built-in connections with the Grizzlies. Chad Forcier, the Grizzlies’ new assistant head coach, was an assistant under Gregg Popovich when Anderson was selected in 2014 as the final pick of the first round out of UCLA. Anderson was also a teammate of Grizzlies’ forward JaMychal Green when they were both with the Spurs’ NBA G League affiliate during the 2014-15 season.

Regrouping from a 22-60 finish and having missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years, the priority was to chart a quick path back to the postseason by securing versatile, high IQ players. That process started when the Grizzlies removed the interim label from coach J.B. Bickerstaff and signed him to a multiyear deal. It continued with player development-minded staff additions that included Forcier along with former NBA players Jerry Stackhouse and Vitaly Potapenko.

The Grizzlies then used the No. 4 overall pick in last month’s draft on 6-11 power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. and the No. 32 pick on Jevon Carter. The two have excelled in the initial games of summer league play and are living up to their billing as the top two defenders in college basketball last season.

Prying Anderson from the Spurs was the latest step. He started 67 of his 74 games last season in San Antonio and nearly doubled his production across the board by averaging 7.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 steals in 26.7 minutes. Anderson shot 52.7-percent overall from the field and 33.3-percent on threes while filling in at small forward during Kawhi Leonard’s injury absence.

Anderson’s raw numbers don’t leap off the page, by any stretch. But his advance metrics set him apart in some respects.

His length, size and instincts factored in Anderson ranking fourth among qualifying NBA players in steals percentage, sixth in defensive rating and 13th in steals per game. Among shooting guards and small forwards who played at least 25 minutes a game last season, only Anderson, Philadelphia’s Robert Covington and Indiana’s Victor Oladipo averaged at least 1.5 steals and 0.7 blocks.

Also, based on ESPN’s real plus-minus tracking, Anderson rated as the NBA's second-best defending small forward last season behind Covington, but ahead of notables such as Golden State’s Andre Iguodala and Houston’s Trevor Ariza. Landing a two-way wing player was essential for Memphis.

After the Spurs held Houston to a season-low point total in a 100-83 win over the Rockets in April, Popovich pointed to Anderson’s late-game defensive effort on James Harden as a key factor in the win.

“He was a star,” Popovich told the San Antonio Express-News of Anderson after the game. “He did a great job on a future Hall of Famer in James. Kyle deserves a lot of credit.”

A long-time rival NBA scout, in Las Vegas for summer league, said Anderson should be a tailored fit for the Grizzlies defensively. But he also said there should be a comfort level with how Marc Gasol and Mike Conley play that will ease the transition for Anderson as he adjusts from the Spurs’ offense.

The league scout added that whatever shortcomings Anderson has a deep-range shooter, he can make up for by handling the ball and initiating offense as a pseudo point forward. The scout characterized Anderson as a wing version of “prime Boris Diaw.”

As the Grizzlies’ roster is currently constructed, Anderson would likely start at small forward alongside Conley at the point, Dillon Brooks or Wayne Selden at shooting guard, Green or Jackson at power forward and Gasol at center. When Memphis uses Conley off the ball, both Gasol and Anderson can take over the duties of initiating halfcourt offense.

The Grizzlies have to get this one right. The team’s primary free agent signings the past two years – Chandler Parsons in 2016 and Ben McLemore last summer – have struggled with injuries and have largely underachieved. Tyreke Evans, who averaged 19 points, five assists and five rebounds on his one-year deal last season with Memphis, accepted a one-year, $12 million deal with Indiana last week.

Anderson is a safe, productive and smart bet for the Grizzlies.

Consider another set of advanced metrics that underscore his offensive impact. Only five NBA guards or small forwards shot at least 50-percent from the field and averaged at least seven rebounds and 3.5 assists per 36 minutes last season: LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons … and, of course, Anderson.

So how did he get away from the Spurs?

Factors that included potential salary cap and luxury tax concerns along with other personnel challenges played a role. The Spurs lost franchise icon Tony Parker to the Hornets in free agency on the same day Anderson signed his offer sheet with Memphis. And, they reportedly may be on the cusp of irreconcilable differences with Leonard. A four-year contract commitment to Anderson, amid so many unknowns with the team’s direction, apparently was not in their immediate plans.

So, the Grizzlies land a promising role player from one of the most respected and winning organizations in sports, a contributor who is just starting to enter his prime.

Anderson is better than you think at first glance.

His impact wears on you; ultimately wins you over.

Slow Mo is now on board to help fast track a turnaround.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.