Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Dwight Howard is not only the best player on the Orlando Magic but one of the best players in the NBA.
That’s a given.
It’s because Howard is so good and, in many his respects, some of his supporting cast is so bad that there’s chatter of him fleeing the Magic for greener pastures, whether it’s at the trade deadline or in free agency. And the mainstream media as well as the blogosphere have been doing their job in analyzing the situation, trying to figure out which player — whether it’s Kobe Bryant or Deron Williams or Dirk Nowitzki or whoever — would be the ideal fit and complement to Howard as that second star.
The second star that Orlando supposedly does not possess.
Yet there’s someone for the Magic that’s already a great fit alongside Howard, even though he may not be thought of as a star or an All-Star or whatever label you want to use even though he’s playing at that level.
His name is Ryan Anderson.
Although Anderson isn’t a household name yet, more and more people are beginning to recognize not only how good he is but also how unique of a player he is.
Anderson isn’t much of a ballhandler or shot creator, meaning he doesn’t do much to create for his teammates or himself. But what Anderson lacks in creativity, he makes up for in productivity and efficiency.
For example, Anderson is an excellent three-point shooter. So far this season, Anderson leads the league in three-point field goals made (87) and attempted (200), while ranking among NBA leaders in three-point shooting percentage (43.5 percent). It’s true that other players shoot at a higher percentage than Anderson, but not many can match his volume while maintaining a high percentage (some can, like Kyle Korver). Anderson’s three-point proficiency allows him to be a perfect complement to Howard. Anderson can spread the floor and maximize spacing on offense both for Howard and Orlando in general.
Players that shoot three-pointers at a high clip are a dime a dozen in the league.
Players that shoot three-pointers at a high clip listed at 6-foot-10 and are a great offensive rebounder? Those are rare.
That’s Anderson skill-set in a nutshell in simplified terms.
That being said, Anderson isn’t much of a defensive rebounder, which makes it perfectly okay for the Magic.
It’d be odd to praise a player for not rebounding the ball enough but in the case of Anderson, it’s a good thing. Why? Because Anderson’s rebounding ability, specifically his defensive rebounding ability, isn’t being suppressed by Howard. Right now, Howard is the best rebounder on the planet. Howard is tops in the NBA in defensive rebound percentage (34.8 percent), total rebound percentage (22.5 percent), and rebounds per game (15.1). Howard, alone, can take care of the rebounds for any team. Because of that, there’s no need for Anderson to be an excellent defensive rebounder because he doesn’t have to be playing next to Howard. The beauty of it all is that Anderson’s best rebounding skill, which is getting offensive rebounds, isn’t being negatively impacted by Howard’s presence. Anderson ranks 10th in the league, up to this point, in offensive rebound percentage (12.6 percent). Anderson is actually a better offensive rebounder than Howard, which not many people would suspect.
As astutely pointed out elsewhere, it’s not ideal for two great defensive rebounders to be paired together because there’s a limited amount of missed shots available to be rebounded. That’s not so much the case with offensive rebounding, where two rebounders like Anderson and Howard can perfectly coexist on the court together without taking away chances from the other. The proof is in the pudding, as both Anderson and Howard rank in the top 20 in offensive rebound percentage. Anderson’s defensive rebound rate (13.6 percent) is lower than the league average for power forwards (17.9 percent) but that’s okay, because Howard masks that weakness. Not coincidentally, Orlando is first in defensive rebound percentage as of today.
So, Anderson is proven to be a great three-point shooter and an excellent offensive rebounder. This is where Anderson’s efficient way of going about his business on offense ties all of his strengths as a player together.
Anderson’s usage rate (21.6 percent) is a hair above the league average (19 percent), which means he isn’t taking any shots away from Howard and doesn’t need to dominate the basketball to score. When Anderson does shoot the ball, he’s near the tops in the NBA in efficiency. Anderson ranks 10th in True Shooting percentage (60.9 percent), sixth in effective field goal percentage (57.0 percent), all the while keeping good care of the ball and not wasting possessions with a league-best turnover percentage (4.4 percent). A low turnover rate and excellent shooting efficiency explains Anderson’s absurd Offensive Rating (128.5), which is second-best in the NBA behind only Tyson Chandler. This is a perimeter-oriented big man we’re talking about here.
A deeper dive into the numbers reveals the secret behind Anderson’s efficient habits — shot selection. The three most efficient shots to take in basketball are the three-pointer, the free-throw, and the layup or dunk. Not coincidentally, this is Anderson’s shot location breakdown (Play Index+ provides a visual breakdown).
|2011-2012 regular season||FGM-A|
|At Rim||2.0-3.7 (53.4%)|
|3-9 Feet||0.3-0.7 (36.8%)|
|10-15 Feet||0.0-0.2 (16.7%)|
|16-23 Feet||0.3-1.0 (30.0%)|
Anderson can shoot, spread the floor, and score efficiently while not taking away any defensive rebounds or offensive touches from Howard. It’s no wonder that the union between Anderson and Howard in the frontcourt has been a seamless one.
Which is why it’s inevitable that Magic fans compare Anderson to the other stretch four that Howard was married to.
Rashard Lewis 2.0
For all the talk about Rashard Lewis, the Magic’s original stretch four, being an ideal fit next to Howard, Anderson is one-upping him in almost every conceivable manner despite the two having nearly identical roles.
This is a breakdown of Lewis’ best season with Orlando in 2008-2009 compared to Anderson this season.
It’s fascinating to watch Anderson on offense because he has little quirks in his game like Lewis did. It isn’t all three-point shooting for Anderson and it wasn’t for Lewis. Case in point: Anderson isn’t afraid to put the ball on the floor when he has to and when he does, he likes to execute a predictable yet effective spin move to create space for himself at the rim. For Lewis, one of his pet moves was to post up along the left baseline and shoot a fadeaway jumper that always seemed to go in. It’s those little types of nuances that accentuate the differences between Anderson and Lewis offensively.
It’s widely assumed that the big difference between Anderson and Lewis is that the latter was a better defender. The numbers reveals a different story.
|2009-2010 regular season (Lewis)||Time||Poss.||PPP||Rank|
|P&R Roll Man||8.6%||77||0.88||49|
|2011-2012 regular season (Anderson)||Time||Poss.||PPP||Rank|
|P&R Roll Man||16.1%||34||0.88||10|
While Anderson and Lewis grade similarly with regards to defending pick-and-rolls and spot-ups, there’s a noticeable divide when looking at how they defend isolations and post-ups. To better investigate the issue, every single isolation and post-up play was examined thanks to Synergy Sports Technology’s video database. Lewis’ final full season with Orlando (video from the 2008-2009 season wasn’t available) was compared with Anderson this season.
The first thing that jumps out with Anderson and how he defends isolation plays is that he’s surprisingly light on his feet. Coupled that with his ability to contest shots by fully extending either arm and that explains a large part of the reason why Anderson fares better than Lewis in defending isolations.
Lewis’ primary problem was that he got beat off the dribble quite a bit. Lewis also got exploited by players that were stronger than him. When Lewis faced off against players that had the ball-handling skills to break him down off the dribble while simultaneously possessing athleticism and strength, he was at their mercy. Also, there’s no pre-draft measurements available to compare the wingspans of Lewis and Anderson, which is mentioned only because it looked as though (from the naked eye) Lewis’ wingspan was shorter than Anderson’s. That matters because Lewis appeared to be bothered more by players with length than Anderson in isolation. Lewis couldn’t seem to effectively close out air space on shooters either.
As for post-up plays, this is where Anderson and Lewis share a lot of deficiencies. Anderson and Lewis can get muscled in the post, which is both players’ primary weakness. The difference is that Anderson does a better job of contesting shots than Lewis and again, it’s hard not to imagine that wingspan isn’t a factor here even though there’s no data readily available to quantify and confirm that theory.
Length can get the better of Anderson and Lewis in post-ups too. In the end, the only discernible difference that was noticeable was that Lewis was more eager to get in front of post players and seal off the paint, which got him out of position at times defensively. Anderson, on the other hand, almost exclusively digs in the trenches and defends a post player more traditionally with his back to the basket.
It can’t be understated that Howard has a great effect on Anderson and Lewis when looking at the big picture, in that he’s there to provide weak-side help. That certainly aids in the effectiveness of Anderson and Lewis on defense, which makes it possible for both players to be deadly stretch fours on offense.
Needless to say, it’s still early and analyzing Lewis defensively is easy because there’s a full season’s worth of data. Plus, there’s other tools out there apart from Synergy to measure defense. Time will tell if Anderson’s numbers will hold up the remainder of the season but they’re certainly eye-opening and at the very least, it wouldn’t be outlandish to suggest that the two players are a wash on defense. It’s true that Lewis was probably a better defender in 2009 but, as regularized adjusted defensive plus/minus shows, he was not that much different in 2010.
When you factor everything in, it’s abundantly clear that Anderson is already a better player than Lewis was with the Magic and a superior fit alongside Howard.
The question is whether or not Anderson can be accurately pegged as that second star to Howard. Right now, the answer is no but that can change in the future.
One of the arguments against Anderson is that he is who he is because he’s paired with Howard. That’s true and a valid point. But the bigger issue is that Anderson doesn’t create his own shot that much at this point. People like to compare Anderson to Nowitzki in that they’re so good at spreading the floor offensively. But Nowitzki can still create his own shot when he needs to. Anderson can’t. This is made clear when noting that Anderson is assisted on a much higher percent of field goals than Nowitzki.
If Anderson can learn to create his own shot more, then the issues of his effectiveness on offense being tied to Howard would be circumvented. Anderson could then stand on his own accord more as a player and become a legitimate second star.
A poor man’s Kevin Love
It’s more than obvious that Anderson, as good as he is, still has room to grow as a player so it must be asked. How good can Anderson be?
|adj. +/-||net +/-||stat. +/-||PER||WARP||Win Shares/48|
Look no further than Kevin Love as a comparison (the numbers are from this season). In fact, it’s downright eery how similar Anderson and Love are as players.
If the numbers hold this season, Anderson and Love will become only the fifth and sixth players in NBA history to average more than three three-point field attempts per game and three offensive rebounds per game in more than 30 minutes played per game.
Like Love, Anderson is an excellent offensive rebounder and three-point shooter (ironically enough, both players will be participating in the Three-Point Shootout during All-Star Weekend in Orlando). Where their games differ, of course, is that Love is the best rebounder in the world not named Howard, and he can create his own shot (which allows him to get to the free-throw line a lot more). On defense, Love and Anderson are a wash more or less.
For now, Anderson is a poor man’s Love and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just another way of saying that Anderson is pretty darn good player.
And a rarity in today’s NBA.
Eddy Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.