Game Preview | Timing Right for Anderson's Opportunities to Increase
Sizing Up the Sixers (28-48):
It’s late in the season, and there are minutes to be had. Justin Anderson has lived this scenario before, and he’s doing it again right now.
Rewind to this time last year. Anderson was a rookie with the Dallas Mavericks, which chose him 21st overall in the 2015 draft. With two weeks remaining in the campaign, and a playoff berth on the line, the Mavs lost Chandler Parsons to injury, forcing head coach Rick Carlisle to reshuffle his rotation.
Anderson, who had started just one game (in November) up to that point, wound up being a beneficiary. He spent eight of Dallas’ final nine regular season contests with Carlisle’s top group, and also got the call to join the first-stringers in what proved to be a Game 5 elimination loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference quarterfinals.
Now with the 76ers, Anderson is again seeing his responsibilities grow as his team hits its home stretch. Again, the catalyst has been an injury to a teammate, in this instance, Robert Covington, who’s been ruled out for the rest of the year due to a slight tear in the lateral meniscus in his right knee.
“I went through this last year in Dallas as well,” said Anderson, the Sixers’ starter at small forward the past three games. He’s expected to take on this assignment Sunday in Toronto, too.
“It was kind of how I got my opportunity to be recognized in the league, and be able to show what I can do.”
In the same breath, Anderson quickly expressed a sentiment that also hitr him a season ago in Dallas, and one that’s commonly shared by many other players who find themselves in situations similar to his - experiencing personal gain at the expense of someone else’s health is never a desired development.
“I’ll say the same thing that I said then, and that is you never want injury from your teammate,” Anderson said. “That’s never something that plays in your mind for why you want to get on the court. When you’re in the gym, you don’t think ever my opportunity is going to come because someone is going to get injured. It’s a very unfortunate thing. It’s something I hate to see happen, especially to my teammates.”
But, as Anderson acknowledged, these types of circumstances are indeed “part of the game.” If he doesn’t take advantage of the uptick in minutes, someone else probably will.
“My job is to go out there and make the most of it,” said Anderson, who registered the second double-double of his career (12 pts, 10 reb) Friday in Cleveland. “It’s not to try and become All-Star in this little bit of time. My job is to show that, no matter what, this team can rely on me, I can be consistent, and bring the energy playing defense, rebounding the basketball, and then contributing on offensive end in many different ways.”
Let’s start first with looking at Anderson’s defense, the area where he and the Sixers seem to feel his emerging skills are most advanced. Over the club’s last three games, all of which have featured Anderson logging at least 20 minutes, the 23-year old has produced an individual defensive rating of 101.3 points allowed per 100 possessions. The mark is tied with Nik Stauskas for lowest on the team.
Further underscoring the effectiveness of Anderson’s defensive is that the Sixers’ collective defensive rating increases to 107.4 when he leaves the floor. This on-off court defensive impact is fourth-highest among all players on the roster since Anderson joined the team via trade on February 23rd.
With Anderson now having been part of the Sixers for a little more than four weeks, Brett Brown thinks the timing is right for the aggressive, passionate, and focused wingman to
expand his duties.
“He’s done his apprenticeship in regards to learning more about me, and what we’re trying to do,” Brown said Friday in Cleveland. “It would be so hard for players to just go into a team, and instantly want to perform where you don’t know anybody - you don’t know the structure, you don’t know the teammates, or the coach. I think he’s had sort of a grounding foundation that gives him a better chance to play well. I feel like now we’ve arrived at that time frame. Now, he takes that opportunity and runs with it.”
Incredibly, due to a road-heavy schedule that has afforded the Sixers only one formal practice session in between the 20 games Anderson has played for the team, there have been limited chances (at best) for him to truly immerse himself in Brown’s schemes. Instead, he’s been forced to do most of his learning on the fly, especially in respect to verbiage.
“Every day, I’m learning something new as far as our lingo, and how they operate defensively,” said Anderson.
To compensate for what he doesn’t know, Anderson channels his efforts towards simply playing hard, particularly on defense. He believes his positional versatility, which at times has enabled him to switch between guarding all five positions on the court, creates additional value.
“Being able to do that, there’s a lot to be said for that,” Anderson said, adding that he’s “trying to do whatever I can to earn my teammates’ trust, earn the coaching staff’s trust.”
Both player and coach alike realize that Anderson’s offense is the aspect of his game that probably requires the most refining. In his short stint with the Sixers, Anderson has left little doubt that he can punish the rim in overpowering fashion with drives and dunks. His 3-point shot, however, is and will continue to be a point of emphasis.
Brown said, “We’re really trying to expand his 3-point game - how he prepares to receive a ball, his footwork leading into his three, his hand positioning leading into his three. All those types of things to set the stage, the launching pad, the foundation of his shot.
“Can we try to decrease his dip, where he catches a ball, and how far he dips it? Can he catch and shoot where he receives it? Those types of things are where I see he needs to improve at, and where we’re focusing on.”
Anderson has converted 12 of 48 3-point heaves (25.0%) with the Sixers. In college, he was a respectable 35.7 percent shooter from behind the arc, going 45.2 percent from deep in his third and final year at Virginia.
“I think my shot’s coming around the corner,” said Anderson, while also admitting he’s been beating himself up lately over what he’s considered untimely misses. “I’m just going to continue to stay with it, keep repping it out. I hope it starts [now], and I hope it goes through the rest of this season where I got hot.”
Given the current state of the Sixers, it certainly appears as if the playing time will be there for him to work with.
Sizing Up the Raptors (46-30):
How has Toronto responded to temporarily losing one of its most important players to injury? Defiantly.
Days after scoring 19 points off the bench in what marked his third straight All-Star Game appearance, Kyle Lowry underwent surgery on his right wrist, and has subsequently missed Raptors’ last 19 games. Toronto, though, has more than weathered the storm. Not only did it win its first three outings immediately following the break, the club is presently in the midst of an 8-2 spurt that has shot it back into contention for, yes, the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
As of Sunday morning, the Raptors shared third-place in the standings with Washington, trailing second-place Cleveland by 2.5 games, and Atlantic Division rival Boston by 3.0 games for first. Counting Sunday’s tilt with the Sixers, Toronto, which reached the East Finals last year, has six outings left on its schedule.
With Lowry sidelined, Cory Joseph has served as a capable backcourt fill-in, averaging 11.4 points and 5.1 assists in 32.2 minutes per game on the heels of the All-Star break. DeMar DeRozan, like Lowry, an All-Star, has accounted for a career-best 27.4 points per game this season, a mark that ranks fifth in the NBA.
A week and a half before the February 23rd trade deadline, Toronto added more veteran depth to its roster, swinging a deal with Orlando for forward Serge Ibaka. Now in his eighth campaign, Ibaka, who had been a staple member of Oklahoma City’s rotation in recent years, has produced 14.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game since the deal went down.
Representing one of the signature wins of a season in which substantial progress has been made, the Sixers defeated Toronto, 94-89, the last time the two teams met, back on January 18th at The Center. That night, Joel Embiid pumped out 26 points and nine rebounds, helping the Sixers end a 14-game losing streak to the Raptors.
The Sixers endured two losses to Toronto earlier this campaign - a 122-95 defeat at Air Canada Center on November 28th, and a 123-114 setback in South Philadelphia December 14th. They’ve dropped eight straight road meetings with the Raptors. The Sixers’ most recent victory north of the border came in November of 2012.
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