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Speed is overrated: A Kyle Anderson story

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Kyle Anderson has used his full bag of tricks to subvert our concept of a modern NBA wing.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Sacramento Kings Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The speed of the NBA game is one of its biggest appeals, and a key reason why its talent level seems so impenetrably high compared to other professional leagues. “Fast” takes on a new, relative meaning when you’re speaking exclusively of a group of top-flight athletes, and so does the word “slow.”

This is all to say, in the NBA sense of the word, Kyle Anderson is not fast. I wouldn’t put money on myself or most of the readers of this blog to beat him in a foot race but, among his contemporaries, the nickname “Slow Mo” is absolutely fitting, and that’s a descriptor that should spell doom for a wing player lacking a reliable, threatening outside shot.

And yet, Anderson, no more fleet-footed than he was in his first three seasons, is playing his best basketball yet. Defensively, he’s been excellent, guarding three positions with a combination of length, strength, and heady decision-making. Offensively, he’s getting it done thanks to an arsenal of moves that win possessions on the margins, allowing his other strengths to shine. They’re the reason he remains an important role player on a playoff-bound team, and they’re also why I find him one of the most watchable players in the league. These are some of my favorites.

In-and-out dribbles

Anderson’s movements are often little more than insinuations. The more of them that he throws at his defender — at his typical two-thirds pace — the more he seems to disrupt the normal circadian rhythms of the game.

A lot of smaller players use in-and-out dribbles while going downhill, but there’s something special about a guy Anderson’s size remaining fully in control while doing so and then casually making a play.

Bullet time

Hang time isn’t usually what comes to mind when you’re thinking of Anderson (unless, you know, you mean Anthony Anderson). But Slow Mo can make some unique things happen using what bounce he has.

I’ve already done a deep dive on the next play, but it’s worth bringing up again because it features both a lethal pump fake and Anderson’s own funky brand of hang time, as he brings his feet up so as to avoid contact with the floor for as much time as possible. The result is a shot that holds up with the description Gregg Popovich once (jokingly) gave to his player’s game: “ethereal”.

Head starts off the catch

The same words below that Zach Lowe used on Patty Mills apply to Kyle Anderson:

“He springs into action a tick earlier than most players, and might veer suddenly off the beaten path... That is a classic Ginobilian move Mills might have picked up by osmosis: running toward the ball after someone passes it to you, so that you are already at full speed when you catch it... Mills turns a static situation into an open 3, just by going from 0 to 60 sooner than most would.”

This is something that’s caught on around the roster, and it works for different players in different ways. Take Anderson who, unlike the Aussie, doesn’t use his head starts to blow by defenders so much as to get them off balance. Lacking the threat of a three-point shot, he needs every advantage he can get if he intends to make something happen off the dribble.

While those defenders recover, scramble, and then (presumably) re-adjust to Anderson’s slower pace, he’s making reads and plays for himself or his teammates.

He didn’t even need it in the next play, but it shows how rudimentary it is for him to do when working off the catch:

The Eurodish

Much of the league has embraced the Eurostep to change direction and create space against their defender. Anderson is no different:

But the pass-first wing takes the move a bit further, using it to gather and then set up others around the basket.

Look-aheads

Anderson isn’t beating many guys down the floor, but he has teammates who can and he has the passing ability to hit them with a 50-foot dish with no problem.

Likely by design, Mills races off as soon as he sees Gasol’s successful tip to Anderson, who rewards him with the touchdown pass for the easy finish.

Up and unders

Anderson loves pump fakes, possibly more than he loves actually shooting the ball. He’s also very good at selling them.

Below, Anderson doesn’t like the wide-open look he gets at the top of the key, passing the ball out to a defended Davis Bertans on the perimeter. Bertans returns it to him and, with no defender in sight, Anderson still instinctively fakes the shot before taking an exploratory dribble towards the basket. If not for Kevin Durant eventually contesting the next pump fake, I’m not sure Anderson ever takes the shot, but such is the opportunistic nature of his game.

Or maybe he just likes clowning KD.