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The underappreciated Kyle Anderson

A generalist rather than a specialist, the 26-year-old made valuable contributions on both ends of the court for Memphis.

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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Memphis Grizzlies Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Anderson isn’t an electrifying talent. You won’t catch him throwing down vicious dunks like Ja Morant or nailing step-back treys off the dribble a la Jaren Jackson Jr. Anderson’s nickname is “Slo Mo” after all, and he fits this by-name to a comical extent. But make no mistake, Kyle’s steady pace in which he plays with on offense serves him advantageously.

With an assist percentage ranking in the 84th percentile among all forwards and an assist to usage ratio in the 93rd percentile, Anderson was an excellent playmaker for Memphis all season long. When given the opportunity to join the starting lineup, he practically functioned as a second point guard on the floor alongside Morant. He’s an underrated pick and roll conductor who thrived in the two-man game with behemoths such as Jonas Valanciunas and Jackson Jr. Anderson showcased tremendous patience as a facilitator out of the pick and roll; he’s adept at baiting the enemy big to over-commit before finding the roll man with precise, timely passes.

Additionally, Anderson is one of Memphis’ most impactful on-ball irritants. When on the court for the Grizzlies, opponents were held to an effective field goal percentage of just 50.7 percent (85th percentile). Also, with block and steal percentages in the 88th and 68th percentile, respectively, Anderson could be relied upon to make life difficult for even the league’s finest scorers. Kyle excels at utilizing his lengthy 6’9” frame and 7’3” wingspan to disrupt positional counterparts, who he fortunately has the height advantage over in most cases.

He’s super active with his hands and has a knack for poking the rock loose from the opposition. Better yet, unlike some Grizzlies such as *cough* Dillon Brooks, Anderson knows how to defend without fouling. He averaged just 1.7 personal fouls per game this season and received a whistle in only 3.3 percent of his defensive possessions.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Portland Trail Blazers Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

At His Best

A credit to Anderson’s mental fortitude, he put together quite possibly his best performance of the year during the play-in game versus Portland. With a team-high nine assists, Kyle kept his teammates involved and in rhythm, particularly Valanciunas. Twelve of the Lithuanian’s 22 points in total stemmed from Anderson’s playmaking wizardry. Also, Anderson himself scored ten points on an efficient 4 of 6 shooting. He converted a pair of mid range jumpers, a corner trey, and an and-one lay-up. Defensively, the young man was just as effective, as he came up with six rebounds, two steals and one rejection. This outing for Anderson encapsulated his unique capability as a do-it-all stat sheet stuffer.

Sure, Kyle isn’t phenomenal in any one particular area. But he does a bit of everything for this Grizzlies squad. His feel for the game is off the charts. Although because he’s a bit lackluster in the scoring department (5.8 points per game), Memphis faithful tends to overlook his contributions at times. This is understandable. After all, it’s the name of the game. Anderson was crucial to the team’s success this season though, his impact just oftentimes fell under the radar.

At His Worst

Nobody’s perfect.

Kyle’s 2019-20 campaign featured bumps in the road. Most notably, the month of December was unkind to Anderson. Over an eleven-game span during the end of 2019, he managed to put up just 3.5 points (on 37.5 percent shooting) along with 2.1 assists per game. To boot, Anderson saw the court for an average of just 14.8 minutes in December (the lowest of any month this season). At this point in time, it was clear that Kyle was playing too passive offensively; his confidence was at an all-time low and it began to affect him defensively as well. It got to the point where it was difficult to justify a significant role for Anderson in the team’s rotation moving forward.

An unproductive stretch for Kyle highlighted a gap in his game that still applies to this day. In short, Anderson has a tendency to disappear. By that I mean there are far too many instances in which he played a sizable amount of minutes yet nearly finished with zeroes across the board. I understand there are superior scorers and facilitators than Kyle on Memphis, but he should look to set up a teammate or get buckets from the rim/mid range with greater frequency. An active and assertive Anderson will in turn lighten the heavy offensive burden placed on the shoulders of the Grizzlies’ young stars.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

What Happens Next?

On Memphis’ next title-contending team, is Anderson a starter? Probably not. Ideally, the Grizzlies would prefer to add someone at Kyle’s position who can do a better job at spacing the floor. It’s quite possible that the squad will explore the trade market for an upgrade at the wing. That doesn’t mean Anderson should be dealt though. Regardless if he’s coming off the pine or playing huge minutes as a starter, Kyle’s playmaking and defensive versatility impacts winning. And as a former San Antonio Spur, he knows better than anyone on the roster what it takes to win at the highest level.

Anderson is the ultimate glue-guy for this Memphis ball club. He’ll be paid just $18 million over the final two years of his contract, the definition of a team-friendly deal. The Grizzlies would be wise to keep him around, at least until his contract expires. They’d be hard-pressed to find a more talented player than Anderson at his dirt-cheap cost. It’s safe to say he will continue to be a mainstay in Taylor Jenkins’ rotation, at least for the near future. Kyle probably won’t ever get the recognition that he deserves for his contributions across a number of areas. But make no mistake, his teammates and coaches are well aware of his importance.

Here’s to hoping Grizzlies faithful are aware, too.

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