In the realm of films, television and really storytelling as a whole, there’s a popular cliche’ called deus ex machina, which is essentially a happenstance when an author/writer writes themselves into a corner where they have to use an often comically contrived plot device in order to resolve a conflict or a hopeless situation.
To a certain degree, it now appears that Kyle Anderson has become the Memphis Grizzlies’ deus ex machina of sorts. When the Grizzlies shut down Justise Winslow for the season, I initially thought that it would be Josh Jackson who would be primarily responsible for filling the void that he left behind. Instead, Kyle Anderson has suddenly become a willing and accurate three-point shooter to provide the steady combination of playmaking and shooting that Winslow would have hypothetically provided, a plot twist that not even the laziest writer could have conceived.
To put Anderson’s newfound emphasis on perimeter shooting into perspective, it’s important to keep some recent history—and his career in totality—in mind. In 59 games with the Memphis Grizzlies this year, he made 16 total threes. In just three scrimmage games in Orlando, he made seven threes, which also represents nearly 10% of the 74 threes that he has made in his entire career. Forget small sample sizes; that disparity is so great that it obviously represents a transformation of Anderson’s game.
And as dubious as it may sound for a six-year veteran in the NBA, maybe the fact that Kyle Anderson was able transform himself into a willing and effective three-point shooter after a four-month layoff shouldn’t be that surprising. After all, the time away from the game may have finally given him the opportunity to become fully healthy for perhaps the first time in his NBA career.
When Anderson was at UCLA, he was definitely not a volume three-point shooter by any stretch of the imagination - but he was an effective and willing one. During his sophomore season, he shot an extremely impressive 48% from beyond the arc while attempting an admittedly meager 1.8 threes per game. He wasn’t a volume shooter, nor did he have to be. He was a swiss army knife of delectable playmaking, versatile defense, and scoring who also shot the ball just often enough from three to keep the defense honest. And when he did shoot them, he converted them with high regularity.
As a sophomore, Kyle Anderson became one of the best players in the country and a midseason finalist for the Wooden Award because he was unashamedly the player that he was. And while perimeter shooting may have not ever been his greatest gift, it was a part of his skill package that enabled him to be a complete player.
However, when he finally arrived to the NBA, something changed. He obviously didn’t feel the same comfort level from beyond the arc as he had in college, as the 0.8 threes he attempted per game this year for the Grizzlies was the most of his NBA career. Even stranger, he clearly wasn’t anywhere near as assertive offensively in the NBA as he was in college.
Now, college players who make it to the NBA obviously don’t always play the same role that they did in college, but for those of us who did watch him play at UCLA, he didn’t even look like the same player. It was almost as if there was some type of handicap holding him back.
And that handicap was apparently a nagging right shoulder issue that Anderson finally received corrective surgery for in April of 2019. He appeared to have injured it at some point during his rookie season, and its effects on his shooting mechanics have been present for most if not all of his NBA career.
Here’s a clip of Anderson’s shooting mechanics from November of 2019, also somehow known as earlier THIS season. If you have watched him at all over the last few years, then you will immediately recognize the unfortunate hitch in his mechanics that has been a major hindrance to his shooting.
Yet in the Grizzlies’ Orlando scrimmages, the hitch in Anderson’s jumper is totally gone, which seemed to greatly increase his confidence and willingness to shoot the basketball. His shooting motion was much smoother and much less deliberate, leading to significantly better results from beyond the arc than he has really seen in his entire career (check the 0:42 mark for a pull-up three that nearly made me fall off my couch when I saw him attempt it, much less make it).
To be sure, Kyle Anderson may be fully healthy for the first time in his NBA career, and his shooting now looks much closer to what it did while he was at UCLA.
Jenkins on Kyle Anderson’s improved shooting: “Coming off of shoulder surgery in the offseason can take its toll on your training habits. I think the break was a great time for Kyle to work on his body.”— 929ESPN (@929espn) July 29, 2020
Now let me clear: I don’t think Kyle Anderson will average roughly two made threes per game in the Orlando bubble games or in the future for the Memphis Grizzlies. Injured or healthy, the amount of threes that he made in the scrimmages is an outlier, and he shouldn’t be expected to be what Chandler Parsons was supposed to be for the Grizzlies.
But even if his recent volume shooting is an outlier, it’s more likely than not that the Memphis Grizzlies are meeting the healthy Kyle Anderson for the very first time. Starting today, they will need him to do everything that he has always done at a high level, which includes steady playmaking (as potentially the backup point guard?) and versatile defense. And if he is able to bring a steady and reliable jumpshot that will aid in spacing for Ja Morant, then he very well may be the deus ex machina that the Grizzlies need to make the playoffs.