This is part three of a season-ending series looking back at each player’s 2017-2018 campaign.
Part One – Jerryd Bayless
Part Two – Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
Justin Anderson is one of the better quotes on the team, so it wasn’t surprising that his exit interview was thoughtful, candid, and introspective.
He didn’t dodge when asked if he was disappointed not to have played a bigger role in the Boston playoff series.
“I was (disappointed), I feel like I have every right to be, as a competitor,” Anderson said last Friday. “But at the same time, our coaching staff and everyone, they do a great job scouting and putting together a game plan. Everybody can’t play. Everybody can’t play 30 minutes-plus. We all want to as competitors, or at least I do. When I see athletic wings try to post us or when I see guys getting out in transition and getting easy layups at the rim, of course it makes me a little angry.”
That’s a good quote to sum up Anderson’s season, sort of a “what if?” theme. What if he played more minutes in the Boston series? What if he didn’t suffer the shin injury in the fall? What if he found some offensive consistency to go along with his defensive grit and focus?
In his sitdown with Brett Brown and Bryan Colangelo, Anderson was told he needs to pull all of that together.
“Coach really just talked about (the idea) that I have everything I need, that I have everything you need in a player to play in May and June,” he explained. “For coach, I think it was about tightening everything up, continuing to work on the shot. I made major improvements to the shot from last year to this year and hope to make another big leap this summer. For me, I have my own personal goals. Last year, when I got traded, I told Bryan Colangelo that I won’t let him down. Coach had told me he wanted me to lose a certain amount of weight and change my body shape. He wanted me to come back shooting the ball at a higher clip. I feel like I did those things. I think this summer is now an opportunity for me to go back and work on those things that much more, but also to work on what I need to add to my game to be able to keep me from being a liability on either side of the floor. It’s gonna take a lot of work and a lot of separation, but I’m ready to do it, ready to start as soon as right now.”
Anderson’s field goal percentage dipped from the late-season stretch he put together in 2017 after he was shipped to Philadelphia as part of the Nerlens Noel trade.
Year-to-date, however, wrapping the Dallas numbers into 2016-17 and comparing them to this year, he improved slightly from the field and also from the three point line:
He was a bit down in steals, blocks, rebounds, and assists, but also got his turnover number down as well. 73.7% was his worst foul-shooting mark over three years in the league.
Game by game, Anderson didn’t have a season dissimilar from Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who I wrote about on Wednesday. Both were seen as catch and shoot guys who might be able to hit some shots off the bench with the occasional off-ball slash thrown in. Both had good nights and bad nights but were plagued with inconsistency and didn’t get any help from their respective injuries.
In Anderson’s case, he’d go 4-5 from the field on one night and 2-9 the next night, contributing double digit bench points only once before he was forced to the sidelines in mid-November. The shin caused him to miss 24 games while the Sixers’ second unit really struggled to score through December and into the early part of January.
He explained back then that the pain would “come and go” and mentioned that doctors had trouble diagnosing the issue:
“For a while we thought it was more of a shin splint type of ordeal,” he said. “That’s the easiest way to describe it. It was more of like, stress stuff going on. The doctors were back and forth between a bone tumor type of thing or a stress reaction. We’ve been looking deep into it. That was kind of why we wanted to hold off a little bit. But now I’m back to full strength and I can’t wait to keep being a piece of the team.”
The uncertainty, he added, was the “toughest thing to deal with.”
“Nobody can pinpoint exactly what it is unless it’s something you have to have surgically repaired or it’s something very common. In my case, I’ve been trying to find athletes around the NBA who had something like this. I talked to Jrue Holiday actually; he had something similar when he was here I heard. Talking to those guys gave me a bit of confidence. But it was probably one person I talked to that had it. It’s not a common case. The biggest thing is going back out there and trusting it. Right now I feel great, that’s the best part. We gave it six or seven weeks, whatever it’s been. Now I’m ready.”
I always felt like that storyline kind of the flew under the radar, considering the amount of criticism the Sixers’ medical staff had received over the years. Here was a guy who missed two-dozen games for a reason doctors weren’t able to nail down.
Anyway, Anderson probably had his best stretch from mid-January into February, hitting double digit point totals five times over a stretch of 12 games where the Sixers went 6-6 and put up the front-end of a seven-game win streak.
Just when he seemed to be rounding into form, Anderson was again hit with an untimely injury, this time rolling his ankle badly in a home win against New York. He missed the next eight games and only logged eight minutes in the next five after returning from injury.
He did have a nice little five-game stretch in late March where he averaged 18.2 minutes, 7.6 PPG, 3 boards, and 1.6 assists, though he only shot the ball around 38% overall:
Anderson had a limited role in the playoffs but came off the bench to play 9 minutes in games three and four of the Miami series, assigned to Dwyane Wade in an effort to slow down the Heat’s veteran superstar. Wade only put up 8 points in game three after torching the Sixers for 28 in game two, and even though he bounced back with a 25-point game four effort, he needed 22 shots to get there. Anderson’s ability to be disruptive on defense was significant, and even led to this out-of-character moment from the 36-year-old Wade:
Things get chippy between Wade and Anderson pic.twitter.com/aHETfzTNcN
— BallersHype (@BallersHype) April 19, 2018
Noting that sequence, and Anderson’s limited use against Boston, it makes it seem like he’s a limited-use bench “goon,” which I think is unfair. I think he can be much more than that. He finished with a higher FG% than Robert Covington, TLC, and Jerryd Bayless and was better defensively than the latter two, showing a willingness to get low, body up defenders, and absorb contact. Those are three things the Sixers needed against the Celtics, badly.
Beyond that, I just saw more from him this year from an “eye test” perspective than most of the other bench guys. You didn’t see consistent performances overall, but there were some smooth shots and heads-up passes, some very athletic offensive and defensive plays, and even a couple of catch and go sequences for layups and dunks:
Anderson is entering the fourth year of his rookie deal and hits the salary cap at $2.5 million next season, up from $1.5 this year. He’ll be 24 years old.
And if you insist on evaluating him based on the Dallas trade, I guess you’d consider the entire thing to be a wash, since Nerlens Noel flamed out in Texas and is now an unrestricted free agent. The Sixers cashed out Jawun Evans and still have a 2020 second rounder leftover from that trade. Shrug.
Either way, I think the injuries played a role in Anderson’s inconsistent season, but I see more of an upside for him than some of the other guys who came off the bench for the Sixers this year.