Game Preview | Anderson Stepping Up at Timely Juncture

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Scene Setter:

Upon coming back from a lengthy injury absence that robbed him of more than a quarter of the season, Justin Anderson has focused on fulfilling a personal challenge:

Take an already high-performing defense, and do what he can to make it that much better.

Nearly three weeks into his return, the 76ers have been trending in Anderson’s desired direction.

During an encouraging month of January that’s seen the swing man gradually work his way back into the rotation, the Sixers have gone from the NBA’s seventh-best defensive team, to fourth in the rankings, with a 103.1 defensive rating. A quality performance Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets (7:30 PM EST; NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers) could move the club back into the top three.

Count Anderson among those paying attention to the Sixers’ progress.

“The biggest thing for me is, every time I’m on the court, I want us to be one of the best - if not the best - defensive teams in the NBA,” Anderson said over the weekend. “That’s my job.”

He’s been playing like it is.

Dating back to January 5th, Anderson’s first game after missing 23 in a row due to shin splints, the 24-year old has produced a stellar individual defensive rating of 98.5. When he’s off the court, opponents have been a full 3.0 points per 100 possessions better than the Sixers.

During this same stretch, Anderson has also generated the seventh-best on-court net rating among the Sixers’ regulars (7.6).

“I want to make sure I push everybody on our team,” he said, “and ever since I’ve been playing, our defensive rating has been going up, so hopefully my strategy’s working.”

But to examine Anderson’s impact in his nine games back exclusively through a defensive lens would be a mistake. His contributions have been well-rounded across the board.

This month, the UVA product has manufactured a 105.6 offensive rating, which is a good amount higher than the marks he posted in his first two seasons as a pro (102.0 ortg 15-16, 101.8 ortg 16-17).

The past week, Anderson’s offensive efforts have been particularly welcomed, and timely. With veterans JJ Redick (left leg) and Jerryd Bayless (left wrist) sidelined, Anderson has helped fill part of the scoring vacuum, averaging 10.3 points per game, while shooting 52.4 percent from the field.

“He’s come back into the mix for more opportunity reasons than anything,” Brett Brown told reporters following Wednesday’s shootaround in New York. “I think since he has been back in the mix, he’s done well.”

Now clear of his injury, Anderson has found he’s been able to get his legs back under him, and be the slashing, rim-attacking threat he wants to be. He knows it’s been important to sprinkle in a few 3-point attempts, too (he’s hit 2 of his last 7).

“I’ve been able to use my athleticism a lot more, so it’s been helping out a lot,” Anderson said.

Only a few weeks away from the one-year anniversary of the trade deadline deal that sent him from Dallas to Philadelphia last February, Anderson remains true to the upbeat, high-energy personality he arrived with. This element is an unmistakable part of his profile.

Anderson is always encouraging, whether it’s doing whatever he does with Amir Johnson during pre-game introductions, dapping up teammates on the sideline, or providing a spark off the bench.

The 24-year old’s enthusiasm is palpable, and seems to rub off on his fellow roster mates.

“The biggest thing I’ve been noticing, we’ve been having a lot of fun out there,” Anderson said of the Sixers’ play of late. “We’re playing for each other, we’re playing hard, we’re having fun, we’re laughing on the bench, we’re laughing in the locker room.

“Everybody’s accepted their role. We obviously want to play through the two young stars, Ben [Simmons] and Joel [Embiid]l. Everybody else just wants to be a major piece of the puzzle. I think that’s what’s leading to our success. We’re going to continue to try to do that, stay humble, play has hard as we can, and let the results do the talking.”

For Anderson, especially recently, this has certainly been the case.

Opponent Outlook:

Familiarity will most definitely be a prevalent theme Wednesday at Barclays Center, where the Sixers face the Brooklyn Nets (18-33), losers of four straight, for the first time this season. Not only are the two clubs well-versed with one another as Atlantic Division rivals, they also came to terms on a December trade that sent Trevor Booker to the Sixers, and moved Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas to Brooklyn. As far as the latter two players are concerned, Okafor has been part of the Nets’ rotation for about a month now. His past two games, he set season-highs of 21 points against Minnesota, and 13 rebounds versus New York. Like Okafor, Stauskas has been used exclusively as a reserve since joining Brooklyn. He too has been productive his previous two tilts, combining for 27 points on 9 for 21 shooting.

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