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Kyle Anderson: The ultimate next man up

Once considered to be an afterthought, Kyle Anderson stepped in as the next man up, and his game has blossomed as a result.

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Memphis Grizzlies v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jared C. Tilton/ Getty Images

These past 11 months for the Memphis Grizzlies have been about the next man up, and no one has seized the opportunity like Kyle Anderson.

At the start of 2020, Anderson’s standing on the team was questionable. He averaged only 14.8 minutes per game in the month of December, as Coach Jenkins was making way for veteran floor-spacer Solomon Hill and young wings like Grayson Allen and De’Anthony Melton.

Once Jae Crowder was traded for an injured Justise Winslow, who stepped in? Kyle Anderson. When Jaren Jackson Jr. went down, who slid into the 4? Kyle Anderson. When Tyus Jones went down in the bubble, and Ja Morant sprained his ankle over a week ago, who took on heavier playmaking responsibilities? Kyle Anderson.

Whatever obstacle has hit the Grizzlies, Anderson has relished the opportunity to take any responsibility needed to keep the team chugging:

I like getting a lot of minutes. Wherever Taylor needs me to go, that’s where I’m willing to go.

He’s flashing what made him an intriguing prospect coming into the league, and why the Grizzlies signed him in the first place. He has the defensive versatility to defend positions 1-5, he can initiate the offense, and he also has the size to be a factor on the glass. As Anderson has answered the call and filled gaps where needed, he’s become an integral part of the Grizzlies’ system in the early part of the season.

“I think in Kyle’s [Anderson] case, over the course of his career, even pre NBA, he put in the work to be a versatile player on both sides of the ball. Obviously, now we’re stretching even more into the versatility, but it’s super impactful,” Coach Taylor Jenkins said. “It’s all the work he does every single day, whether he’s play the 4, playing the 3, playing the 1. He studies a lot of film and also when he’s in his workouts we just try to put him in a lot of situations that are going to prepare him for the opportunities that come his way.”

While stepping into this role, not only has Anderson moved up the pecking order in the Grizzlies rotation, but he’s also expanded his game.

More notably, Anderson has improved his outside shot, which is allowing him to find his spot in the “let it fly” system Coach Jenkins has deployed. The percentage (28.9%) isn’t remarkable, but that’s more likely a byproduct of having to fire late shot clock or off the dribble. However, his volume is encouraging, as he has launched 5.4 three’s per game thus far — quadrupling his career-best rate (1.3 from last year).

Is he going to continue launching 3’s at this rate? Not necessarily. However, it’s comforting knowing that he’s going to space the floor and shoot the 3-ball when open, while sharing the floor with Ja and Jaren.

He’s also created shots for himself pretty well. In isolation situations, Anderson is:

  • 10th in points per isolation possession (1.19)
  • 7th in field goal percentage (58.4%)
  • 6th in scoring frequency (62.5%).

Though that’s not going to be a responsibility for him when others are back from injury, it’s surely welcoming to see the Grizzlies not totally struggle creating their own shot.

Anderson has also stepped in as a rebounder. He’s averaging 7.9 rebounds a game, 2nd on the team behind Jonas Valanciunas, and he’s also boasting a career-best rebounding rate (12.9%). This is a strong sign going forward as we get closer to Jaren Jackson Jr.’s return. It’s going to be important to surround him — and Brandon Clarke off the bench — with good positional rebounding, especially whenever the Grizzlies run Clarke/Jackson at the 4 and 5. Anderson has shown he can be a strong rebounder from the 3 or the small-ball 4 position to make these lineups possible, while minimizing its primary weakness.

Los Angeles Lakers v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Memphis Grizzlies needed a next man up, and Kyle Anderson has risen to the occasion. In the process, he reminded everyone who he is, and what he could be for this team.

He’s a big playmaker that can alleviate initiation responsibilities off Ja Morant and Tyus Jones to get them off-ball looks. He’s another community rebounder that can make life easier for the big man prospects. And he’s also a willing shooter in the team’s wing rotation.

“He’s a unique player for sure,” Coach Jenkins said. “When you study him, you try to find what the best position he’s going to be able to play as long as he’s going out there and making the right plays and playing unselfish basketball on the offensive end.

Kyle Anderson’s emergence has certainly been a bright spot for the Grizzlies’ rather uneasy start, and it’s going to raise intriguing questions going forward. When Justise Winslow returns, should they keep Anderson in the starting lineup or relegate him to the bench? If he gets moved to the bench, is he a 3 or a 4?

After a murky outlook this time last year, Kyle Anderson has emerged as a Swiss-army knife for the Memphis Grizzlies, stepping into any role and taking on any responsibility needed for success.

Kyle Anderson is the ultimate next man up.

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