Slow and Steady
By now most Spurs fans have seen the video of Kyle Anderson telling some kids before the draft that, even though he wanted to be drafted earlier, he would love to play for the Spurs. If you haven't, here it is.
Anderson was projected to go in the late lottery to early 20s range, far beyond the Spurs' reach, so he didn't even agreed to a work out in San Antonio. The Spurs already had a set roster at the time, so it looked like they were going to draft a foreign prospect, like they have done in the past. But when Anderson fell to them, they couldn't pass up the opportunity to select him.
He was immediately heralded as the potential steal of the draft. The consensus was that the Spurs were the perfect team to mold such a unique and talented player, loved by analytics but doubted by scouts that couldn't look past his unimpressive athleticism. His willingness to pass the ball and his combination of size and court vision elicited comparisons to Boris Diaw, which were welcomed by Anderson.
The combination of all those factors -- his interest in playing for the Spurs, the fact that he was projected to go higher, the pundit's reactions and the apparent fit -- conspired to create expectations that were not supposed to exist for a 30th draft pick joining a championship team that brought back its entire playoff roster. The narrative was so compelling that we wanted it to continue, for Anderson to immediately show glimpses of greatness that would validate the notion that the Spurs have done it again by selecting a gem late in the draft.
It hasn't happened yet and it will likely not happen this year. The Spurs have four rotation wings with experience and three big men with perimeter skills. There is no room for Anderson in the rotation right now, to no fault of his own. Anderson has appeared in just seven games and has scored six points in 23 field goal attempts and missed his five three-pointers. He has looked as out of place as any 20-year-old trying to adjust to new rules and better athletes while playing in a complex system would.
An almost completely opposite path was taken by Cory Joseph, the Spurs latest drafted player in the roster. Joseph was expected to be a second round pick after not producing as expected in the University of Texas and entering the draft too soon, according to the experts. There was nothing unique about his game. There were no expectations for him. He seemed like a gamble by San Antonio in a draft in which Kawhi Leonard was the real price.
So when Joseph struggled mightily to adjust and spent the majority of his first season in the D-League, it seemed like a natural step.
Anderson was sent down for the first time on Sunday, to get some playing time with the Austin Spurs. And he had a good game. He showed off his ability to create for others and score and it was obvious that he is a very talented guy, someone who belongs in the NBA. He will surely be sent down indefinitely as soon as Tiago Splitter is healthy again because the Spurs can only dress 13 players and right now he's the 14th guy in the rotation.
The important thing to remember is that, just like it was with Joseph, the assignment won't be a punishment for Anderson or a sign of disappointment by the Spurs. It's the best way to further his career, long-term.
In Austin, Anderson will be able to adjust to a new role. In his first game with the Spurs' JV, he called for the ball often, sometimes when the play the team was running didn't necessitate it. And when he got the rock he would dribble for a while surveying the court before making a move, like a point guard would do, instead of making a crisp pass to keep the ball moving. Those little adjustments to his life as an NBA wing will be expedited only through reps.
Anderson will be flanked by players that shared training camp with him in Bryce Cotton, Josh Davis, and JaMychal Green. There will be a Danny Green-esque marksman at the shooting guard position in Jarell Eddie. With that configuration, Anderson will likely be asked to take the role of Kawhi Leonard, to rebound and defend and push the ball up court after getting a defensive board. And yes, because he will be the most talented offensive player on the floor in most games, to create for himself and others occasionally.
Playing minutes in that role, as well as working on his body and his shooting form, is exactly what Anderson needs as he develops. He's not a good enough spot up shooter at this point to give the big club minutes off the ball. And the Spurs have enough ball-handlers with a better resume at their disposal. But that won't always be the case. Next season Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli, Kawhi Leonard, Cory Joseph and Danny Green will all become free agents, as will Matt Bonner and Austin Daye. A few of those guys will return but likely not all of them. The logjam that is preventing Anderson from seeing the court will disappear.
His job, then, is to see this season as a chance to learn how to play within the Spurs system, how to contribute without the ball while maintaining the shot creation instincts that make him unique. Just like Joseph, he needs to embrace his time in the D-League and see it not as an affront or an indictment on his talent but as an opportunity.
Anderson's nickname is famously Slow-Mo and it's suiting. He moves deliberately on the court, wasting no movements. In a sport in which waterbug guards and long-limbed athletic freaks get to the rim in a blur of speed, Anderson takes his time and surveys the court looking for the best path, the one that will lead him where he needs to be. If he takes the same cerebral approach to his career, he will arrive at his destination. This is just the first step.