I am going to ask you a question...and be honest...
How much did you really know about Kyle Anderson before he signed with the Memphis Grizzlies this summer?
Of course Grizzlies fans are familiar with the man known as Slow-Mo to an extent - he will forever (ok, maybe not forever to everyone) be the UCLA player the Grizzlies SHOULD have taken in the 2014 NBA Draft, and he fell to the Spurs at #30 overall and became one of the more versatile and unique role players in the National Basketball Association. A 6’9” wing with a handle, a below average athlete trying to thrive in an above the rim era, a non-shooter in the age of Stephen Curry and the Splash Brothers.
He stepped in to the system of the San Antonio Spurs and grew year to year under the watchful eye of Gregg Popovich and his wonderful staff. Minute by minute, you could see how truly out of place he was, but in a very good way. He wasn’t athletic, but he didn’t need to be - he knew how to use his length and his methodical-to-quick dribble to force defenders out of place. He may not have had the quickest feet defensively, but he didn’t have to have them - he was a matchup nightmare, unpredictable and almost impossible to gameplan for. His physical gifts limited, but his basketball skill set made him a different kind of unicorn - one of basketball substance, not happenstance.
Where most other NBA players zig, Kyle Anderson zagged. If there was ever a guy destined to become a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, from a basketball perspective, it’s him.
How will he fit? Time will tell...but let’s take our best guess.
2017-2018 Year in Review
Anderson was arguably the member of the Spurs that benefited most from Kawhi Leonard’s lost 2017-2018 campaign. KA played in 74 games for the Spurs last year, 67 as a starter, and posted career highs in minutes per game (26.7), field goal percentage (52.7%) and attempts (5.9), win shares per 48 minutes (.151), offensive rating (114) and net rating (+13). He showed out for San Antonio in a variety of ways - as a creator, as a malleable defender, and as a surprisingly effective finisher at the rim.
He’s a player who took opportunity in a contract year and ran with it. No one would mistake him for an All-Star, but he was a functional, good basketball player in the Spurs system. He made them better than they had any business being heading in to the playoffs, and while he did not shine in the postseason he put forth a season worthy of investment...at least in the eyes of the Grizzlies.
J.B. Bickerstaff his playing his hand close to the chest right now with regard to who will be starting and in reserve roles. This past Tuesday night is was (surprisingly) Chandler Parsons, and not Kyle Anderson, in the role of the starting small forward for Memphis. While this makes sense to an extent, especially if Garrett Temple winds up being the starter at shooting guard instead of Dillon Brooks, the money and years put in to Anderson suggest that he will be, at worst, the sixth man on this team.
That role suits him well, to be honest. He can play the small or power forward positions, and theoretically could be a big lineup guard or a small ball five, depending on the matchup. His skill set allows for him to fit alongside most players - want ball handlers? Mike Conley/Garrett Temple/Anderson/Chandler Parsons/Marc Gasol scream facilitation. Looking for some defensive switchability? Andrew Harrison/Dillon Brooks/Omri Casspi/Anderson/Jaren Jackson Jr. fit the bill on paper.
Regardless of starting (where I still think he eventually settles), Anderson’s role will be that of a chameleon of sorts. He has the rolodex of basketball skill to be whatever the team needs him to be...outside of outside shooting - more on that in a moment.
Best Case Scenario
It’s actually fairly simple with Kyle-
Best case? He expands upon the role he had with the Spurs, whether he starts or not (for the record, I still believe he starts) and becomes more of a scorer. Not necessarily as a shooter, but as a player who has distinct offensive sets drawn up for him to utilize his set of skills to get to the basket. He plays roughly 28-30 minutes a night, posts an extremely efficient 11 points, 6 rebound, 4 assist per night stat line, and is in the conversation for Most Improved Player in the NBA.
Would he win it? Of course not - Victor Oladipo and others after him have shown that scoring matters, and that just isn’t Kyle’s game. Being in the mix for such an award, though, would show a respect for what Anderson is and how he will make Memphis better on both ends of the floor.
Worst Case Scenario
Some times, when Spurs players leave that system, they struggle to achieve the same levels of success that they did while in San Antonio. Kyle’s abilities are so different that when you watch him play, he seems like a realistic candidate for this type of regression. Just how good can a slow perimeter player be on an NBA team without arguably the greatest coach of his generation pulling the strings?
Anderson shows he cannot be a starter, that last year’s performance was an exception to the rule of who he is as a player, and he is relegated to a 14 minute a night role playing spot in the rotation. That is not the player that the Grizzlies front office invested four years of a full Mid-Level Exception in, so this would be a disaster.
Who is Kyle Anderson as a basketball player?
Truth is, we will find out as the season progresses. That is a major part of what makes this upcoming campaign so fascinating - while Anderson and Jaren Jackson Jr. lead the charge of newbies, this roster has had a good bit of overturn. They will be spending the early weeks of the season figuring out how they fit together, whether it is in defensive rotations or how they like the ball passed to them.
KA is one of the NBA’s most special players in that he bucks most of the trends of the Association. J.B. Bickerstaff made it clear he values that type of skill set, and the cerebral Anderson brings a ton of basketball tools to the table in addition to the basketball IQ the Grizzlies clearly valued this past summer.
Fans can expect to see a player with a variety of talents, a modern NBA renaissance man who can be most anything you want him to be, outside of a sharpshooter. With Mike Conley, Dillon Brooks, Chandler Parsons, MarShon Brooks, Marc Gasol, Omri Casspi, and even Jackson and JaMychal Green in the fold, he doesn’t necessarily have to be.
All he has to be is himself...whoever that is outside the Spurs sanctuary. If that means 9 points, 6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2 steals, and a block per game while playing stellar team defense and serving as a secondary ball handler? Whether as a starter or sixth man, it will be more than enough.