Kyle Anderson returned to the starting lineup in Saturday night’s win over the Houston Rockets, in response to Jaren Jackson Jr.’s late scratch from the lineup. With Steven Adams presumably missing time due to an ankle sprain, he’ll likely be featured in the lineup more often.
And this rotation shift could be pretty impactful in a lot of different contexts.
For starters, it could help Anderson regain some of his mojo. He’s seen quite a few dips across the board. His field goal percentage has dipped from 46.8% to 44.3% — his lowest mark since his rookie season. For the first time in his career, he has a negative defensive box plus/minus (DBPM), which is now at -0.3, so still very close to neutral. Then, he’s seen some per-possession drops in scoring (21.6 points per 100 possessions to 18.3) and in assists (6.3 per 100 possessions to 5.6).
People will try to point to his shooting form and a possible hitch in his motion. However, he’s shooting roughly the same percentage from 3 as last season — 36% compared to 35.8%. That’s still above the league-average. He’s seen a small decrease in volume, but it’s not drastic enough to make him a complete non-factor from the perimeter.
Probably the most alarming statistical drop is his net rating impact. The Grizzlies are getting outscored by 12.4 points per 100 possessions with Anderson on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. It’s quite the drop-off from last season, as they outscored opponents by 1.8 points per 100 possessions last year.
While some may point to a potential regression from Anderson, you have to factor the change in role this season. Last year, he was featured in more lineups with the starters, which was a successful unit for the majority of the season. This year, he’s been in more bench lineups. The talent discrepancy could play a factor in this net impact hit, as the bench units have varied based off rotation tweaks and a revolving door of injuries.
In a starting lineup with Jaren Jackson, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, and Tyus Jones, Anderson will be placed in a more advantageous situation.
There’s just more variability with how Anderson can be utilized. They could deploy a 5-out lineup of sorts, with Anderson slotted in the corner. However, he could also be utilized in a similar fashion as Steven Adams.
With Adams out of the lineup, Taylor Jenkins can diversify Anderson’s offensive role and feature him in the center of the offense as well. They could use him as a bit of a playmaking hub where he could run dribble hand-off’s, find cutters, and even get some off-dribble creation opportunities as well.
Either of these spots will be beneficial, because they’ll maximize his offensive skillset. He’s been elite on corner 3’s, as he’s shooting 48% from that zone — which falls in the 93rd percentile among forwards, according to Cleaning the Glass. He continues to put up sensational advanced metrics for playmaking, as he’s in the 84th percentile in Assist Percentage (17.2%) and in the 94th percentile in Assist:Usage Ratio (0.96). He still has shown really good juice off the dribble with his ability to get into the paint.
All of that is enhanced in this lineup. They collectively provide good spacing — the Jones-Bane-Brooks-Anderson-Jackson lineup ranks in the 70th percentile in B-Ball Index’s Spacing metric using the Lineup Creator Tool. Given the defensive versatility, playmaking, and spacing this theoretical starting lineup provides, they can continue humming over this holiday stretch.
And Kyle Anderson could be the biggest beneficiary here.
What the next year-and-a-half or so holds for Kyle Anderson and the Memphis Grizzlies is pretty unclear at this point.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe recently identified Anderson as an “obvious” trade candidate. With his favorable expiring contract amount — and with 4’s like Brandon Clarke, Killian Tillie, and Santi Aldama playing well and are more future-focused fits — it’s not unreasonable to think along the same lines as Zach here.
In addition, he’s entering unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career this summer.
That’s not to say the Grizzlies can’t — or shouldn’t — keep him, because he’s a good player to have around. He’s a veteran player that demonstrates great versatility on both sides at the ball, moves the ball extremely well, defends at a high level, and hits 3’s at a reasonable clip. 6’9” forwards that do all that are good to have around, so both sides of the “keep or don’t keep” debate aren’t necessarily wrong.
Nonetheless, Kyle Anderson’s return to the starting lineup could help him find his groove, help the team continue this brilliant stretch of play, and help make his future a clearer and richer.
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