Every Spurs draft pick faces pressure, no matter how low they are selected. All fanbases hope for the best case scenario and daydream about landing a star but because San Antonio has unearthed Hall-of-Famers with late first and second round picks, the Spurs' faithful have for years assumed they would again.
Expectations started to lower after James Anderson and DeJuan Blair failed to become key players but Cory Joseph's improvement renewed our collective faith in PATFO's ability to find talent. Which is why a lot of us are expecting greatness or at least competence out of Kyle Anderson sooner that it will probably arrive.
Anderson could become a match up nightmare
After a quiet rookie season all we know about Anderson is that he's as uniquely talented as he was billed at the draft. Players with his height and length typically don't have the ball-handling ability and vision he has. I won't bother touching on his passing because it's as good as advertised. Those "6-foot-9 point guard" descriptions were accurate then and are accurate now, even though Anderson has played at both forward's spots for the Austin Spurs almost exclusively.
That doesn't mean he was chained to a role as a screener or parked in a corner. Not only was he asked to create after serving as a escape valve for the ball-handler -- like Boris Diaw often is -- but there were times when he got the ball on top and either attacked on isolations or pick and rolls. When things went right, Anderson showed off his feathery touch on floaters and short pull ups.
Unfortunately, Slowmo doesn't have that explosive first step required to blow past his defender on his own. When there's no screen he has to rely on a lot of probing and dribbling, which makes him susceptible to having the ball stolen. As talented as he is, Anderson probably isn't suited to be a primary ball-handler in the league. He does a much better job of beating his man and either scoring or assisting when he has a head start, which points to a future as a secondary creator.
It's rare to find good, young ball-handlers who also have a decent post game but Anderson is one of those privileged few that come out of college with a bevy of offensive tools. Whenever a smaller player is on him, Anderson is so long that he can finish over the outstretched arms of the defender. He doesn't score as often as you'd want but can find open teammates if the opponent overhelps on defense and draws fouls at a decent clip.
Unfortunately, the best position for him right now at the NBA level might be power forward and he won't get the mismatches he needs in the league at that slot to truly make a difference.
Poor defense could doom his career
The two reasons why Anderson can't play at the wing full time for significant minutes are his unreliable outside shot and his at times dismal perimeter defense. The three-point shot is not quite there but it's coming along nicely, especially at home, where he shot 43 percent (25 percent on the road). The release is still slow but high, which makes it hard to block. The defense, however, is a serious concern.
Anderson doesn't have the lateral quickness to stick to perimeter players with even a mediocre first step. He knows it, so he either reaches as they go by him or tries to funnel them to help. Unfortunately he often gets beat so badly that no help defender is in place.
At power forward he can still get exposed at times because of bad positioning and footwork. Anderson ventures a little further out than he should on some pick and rolls and alternatively gets into too upright a stance or rests on his heels instead of being on his toes, which makes changing directions impossible.
Fortunately his length and anticipation give him some serious upside as a help defender if he can be more active. That's another issue with the former Bruin: he sometimes doesn't seem to be going all out. Whenever he's not involved he often walks around instead of looking fully engaged. In the five playoff games I watched, his body language -- always a tricky thing to discuss -- was also downright Dwight Howard-esque, but reading too much into it would be unfair.
It's too early to judge his potential
After one year, the question of whether Anderson can be a rotation-caliber player in the league remains hard to answer. Anderson rebounds like a power forward but assists at a combo guard rate. He can attack bigger, slower guys off the dribble or post up smaller players. He's a rare talent that when at his best can be compared in terms of skill set to Lamar Odom or Toni Kukoc and at his worst looks positionless and lost, like many international combo forwards that have failed in the NBA.
Ultimately, his ceiling will be determined by how much he can improve on defense. Right now the bad habits are too noticeable, the slow feet too hard to hide for him to be anything but a liability against good NBA teams. He won't get much quicker but with time he could learn to leverage his length to give perimeter players more room to avoid blow-bys while still being able to contest, like Danilo Gallinari does. He's already dangerous off the ball (two steals and 1.5 blocks per game in Austin), so what needs tightening is his man defense.
Patience is a virtue
The good news is he's 21 years old and will be cheap for a couple more years. Even if he doesn't look ready to contribute right away in a significant role, the talent he has is rare for someone selected with the last pick of the first round. Another training camp, another year in the weight room and another season in the D-League and he could emerge as a walking mismatch who can legitimately play two positions. Or he could be in on his way out of the league after the Spurs decline to pick his option. Neither scenario would be too surprising.
There are no players similar to Anderson around so it's hard to predict how his career will go. What's certain is the Spurs' front office did a good job selecting him. Even if he fizzles out as a prospect, passing on someone with such an intriguing skill set would have been unwise. Low draft picks are a place to take chances and Anderson is a gamble that could still pay off hugely. All that's left to do now is wait and hope he can improve on his weaknesses enough to become the latest Spurs' steal.