Analyzing Spurs draft pick Kyle Anderson: By the Numbers

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

What makes Kyle Anderson different? Why might have the Spurs selected such an unusual player?

Kyle Anderson was selected by the San Antonio Spurs with the 30th pick of 2014 NBA Draft. A unique prospect, Anderson is without precedent in the metric databases of current NBA players. Why did the Spurs select him? Why was he available at the 30th pick? What are his attributes, and how might he be used by the Spurs?

Why Anderson?

Most likely, the Spurs were looking for the best talent available. However, specific team needs could include a back-up SF for Kawhi Leonard, a back-up shot-creator for the second unit to spell Manu Ginobli, or a defensive/rim-protecting big man for the second unit were the mostly likely desires.

The NBA draft is about supply and demand. The more in demand a particular individual and skill set, the higher the value, and the earlier the individual is likely to be selected. The more common a skill set might be, the lower the perceived value because that skill set could be picked up later in the draft or with an undrafted free agent. In evaluating the 2014 NBA draft, the top 15-20 picks were relatively apparent. However, after about pick 19, there were a large number of very similar domestic SG/SF wings available as ranked by most observers, but numerous teams with differing needs. Thus, some teams selected out-of-the-box picks, such as Bruno Caboclo, or filled specific team needs with role players such as Mitch McGary. Houston, with a particularly strong "analytics" focus, surprisingly selected a foreign "Euro-Stash" player, Clint Capela, at #25 to keep their 2014 first round salary off the books as they pursue high profile free agents such as Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, and LeBron James. The Charlotte Hornets needed shooting, and went for PJ Hairston at #26. The Phoenix Suns selected Bogdan Bogdanovic at #27, who likely was a primary target for the Spurs due to his passing/creating/shooting capability. The Los Angeles Clippers evidently wanted a shooter, and selected CJ Wilcox #28, as he was the best remaining pure shooter available. The OKC Thunder were in need of a back-up defensive SF to spell Kevin Durant for defensive duties, and selected defensive SF Josh Huestis #29. Consequently, Kyle Anderson, a player that that shows extremely well in multiple "analytics" based models and who probably should have been selected by Houston at #25, fell to the Spurs at #30.

Anderson is unique. Therefore by nature supply is low. He is not like the "athlete" SG/SF wings cranked out by the collegiate system in mass numbers. He is best described as an offensive "initiator", with the ability to create, pass, and shoot/finish when necessary. Anderson’s skill set is very unusual and potentially valuable in a motion-based offense, and this immediately makes him more rare and desirable than other prospects that were likely under consideration, such as Damien Inglis. Inglis was immediately snapped up at #31 by the Milwaukee Bucks with the first pick of the second round. However, because of Anderson’s unusual skill set with no real precedent in the NBA, there are legitimate questions about how his game will translate to the NBA. Does a player with the nick-name "Slo Mo" really make sense in the most athletic basketball league in the world? Generally speaking, when a data point is a severe outlier, either there is something "wrong" with the number, meaning the player‘s game will not translate to the NBA, or the individual may possess a very special quality. Thus, this pick fits perfectly into the high risk/reward mold that is usually utilized for foreign prospects that have been so successful for the Spurs in the past.

So tell me why this guy is so unique

Briefly, the guy is a PG trapped in a SF/PF’s body. Illustrated below in Table 1 are some of Kyle Anderson’s (KA) physical measurements, with #7 Julius Randle (JR), #4 Aaron Gordon (AG), #23 Rodney Hood (RH), #54 Nemanja Dangubic (ND), Matt Bonner (MB) and Kawhi Leonard (KL) for reference purposes.

Table 1

Player

H

Wing

SR

lbs

BF

HL

HW

KA

6’7.5"

7’2.75"

8’11.5"

230

13.4

8.25"

8.75"

JR

6’7.75"

7’0"

8’9.5"

250

9.4

8.75"

8.25"

AG

6’7.5"

6’11.75"

8’9"

220

5.1

8.75"

10.50"

RH

6’7.25"

6’8.5"

8’7"

208

7.5

8.50"

8.50"

ND

6’7.25"

6’8"

8’6.5"

193

NA

NA

NA

MB

6’8.5"

6’8.75"

8’9.5"

242

13.6

NA

NA

KL

6’6"

7’3"

8’10"

227

5.4

9.75"

11.25"

H = Height, Wing = wingspan, SR = Standing Reach, lbs = weight (lbs), BF = body fat, HL = hand length, HW = hand width

While Kyle has good size with smallish sized hands, the most interesting information is not even on the chart. He did not participate in the athletic measurements, such as maximum vertical jump, no-step vertical, lateral shuttle time, or the sprint, so his athletic limitations would not be exposed.

Next, let’s consider some of Kyle’s selected statistics versus other first round PG’s #19 Tyler Ennis (TE), #24 Shabazz Napier (SN), #10 Elfrid Payton (EP) and #6 Marcus Smart (MS) as illustrated in Table 2.

Table 2

Player

Rb/g

TS%

A/TO

PPR

Bk/g

S/g

PF/g

KA

10.0

57

2.12

3.66

0.8

1.8

1.7

TE

4.1

51

3.22

5.38

0.2

2.1

2.0

SN

6.8

59

1.71

1.05

0.3

1.8

2.1

EP

6.2

54

1.52

0.04

0.6

2.3

2.4

MS

6.7

55

1.78

1.45

0.6

2.9

2.9

All data are per 40 minutes pace adjusted. Rb/g = Rebounds per game, TS% = True Shooting %, A/TO = Assist/Turnover, PPR = Pure Point Ratio, Bk/g = block per game, S/g = steal per game, PF/g = personal foul per game

By almost all statistical measures, Anderson is at least as good as the more highly drafted PG’s in most categories, and surpasses all of them in rebounds and blocks. Measured by total assists rather than PPR, Anderson was the best PG in the entire draft class, and easily had the largest number of rebounds per game. Secondly, simply from a statistical point of view, he does not appear to be a terrible liability defensively. Probably due to his length, he has a good number of blocks per game, a respectable number of steals per game, and a low number of personal fouls per game, meaning he is not foul prone despite the lack of foot speed. Will this strategy translate to the NBA? On one hand is an ominous warning based upon the heavy use of zone defense schemes at UCLA and the fact that he was usually assigned the less threatening offensive wing player for man-to-man defense. On the other hand, Anderson‘s length and wingspan does seem to fit with his good number of blocks and steals. It is possible that in order to benefit from Anderson’s passing and offensive skills, that more zone defense may be needed to keep him on the floor, particularly with the Spur’s second unit. By nearly any measure, Anderson qualifies as unique.

Other Questions

So what Spur does Kyle Anderson most closely resemble? Well, the resemblance is not that strong but from a statistical point of view, he most closely resembles Manu Ginobli based upon his time at UCLA rather than Boris Diaw. Anderson was the primary ball-handler at UCLA, just as Manu is often the primary ball-handler when he is on the court for the Spurs particularly for the second unit. Anderson‘s PPR at UCLA is similar to Ginobli‘s PPR in San Antonio, but comparing NCAA to NBA data is dubious at best. Anderson has good rebounding numbers (10.0 per 40 minutes pace adjusted), which generally do translate to the NBA. It could easily be that Anderson’s game would need to morph into a more Diaw-like role to mesh with the Spurs system, but this is not how Anderson has been playing quite successfully at UCLA. He has been a primary ball handler, initiating the offense from the top of the 3-point line. Could this be changed into a high-post passing attack of some kind? Yep, the possibility exists that the role Anderson would need to play would be quite different from his UCLA days, and he may have the length and rebounding to make such a strategy work.

Conclusion

Kyle Anderson is an intriguing draft selection. He has a high basketball IQ, can initiate an offense, has excellent passing, good shooting, and good rebounding ability. He is slow, and has spent a significant amount of time in a zone defense system, so transitioning to the Spurs defense may be challenging. This pick is a classic high risk, high reward selection that makes complete sense based upon the Spurs motion offense, and is a risk well worth taking. It will be fascinating to see how Anderson works out, and how Popovich might need to modify some of his schemes to either take advantage of Anderson’s abilities, or to hide his weaknesses.

One other question bears asking. Could such a slow player be able to bring the ball up the court in the NBA? Remember Garrett Temple, who looked great until he was pressed and then he became a turnover machine to the point that the Spurs had to release him? Can Anderson really bring the ball up the court in the NBA with his foot speed? His NCAA data would suggest that he could, but I would need to see that in NBA action to be sure.

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