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Justin Anderson helps the Mavericks' defense, shooting, but won't be a star

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Here's the scouting report on Justin Anderson, a player who looks ready to become a role player but may not have huge upside past that.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks just did something they had not done in nearly a decade (since 2006). They had a draft selection, stayed with that selection, and actually took a player.

Justin Anderson is the newest Dallas Maverick, hailing from the Virginia Cavaliers, and has a scouting report that has drastically changed from his sophomore to junior year. A touted recruit three years ago, Anderson grew up in Montross, Virginia and played his high school ball at Montrose Christian Academy. By the way, that's not a typo: Montross, Virginia is in Virginia and Montrose Academy (of Kevin Durant fame) is in Rockville, Maryland and their one-letter difference is coincidental (or so we think). Anderson had initially committed to Maryland but switched to Virginia after longtime Terapin coach Gary Williams retired.

Starting just 22 games in his first two years on campus while playing behind future NBA player Joe Harris, Anderson became a full-time starter his junior season after Harris left. His timing couldn't have been better. He had a breakout campaign in 2014-15, most notably seeing a tremendous uptick in his three-point shooting. After connecting on barely 30 percent of his threes before, Anderson shot more than 45 percent from the college line last year, launching himself onto the NBA prospect radar and leading the Cavaliers to a stellar season that was ultimately cut short by Michigan State in the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.

At the combine, Anderson was measured at 6'6.25 and 231 pounds, with a nearly seven-foot wingspan (6'11.75); this is good size for a swingman, with long arms and a mature body that won't need much if any weight training at the NBA level. Anderson then put on a show in the vertical testing, recording a 43-inch max vertical leap, which was one of the best marks at the event. You can clearly see his leaping ability here.

I told y'all. Tag someone with bounce! My bros @londontyus and @dthomp_15 sure got it! #Work #EastBay

A video posted by Justin Anderson (@jusanderson1) on


The buzz on Anderson -- who turns 22 in November -- was solid and steady, with most mock drafts putting him somewhere in the 20's. Dallas had worked him out along with several wings (this seems to be a group they had targeted to pick from), so his selection should not come as too much of a surprise, even if they left R.J. Hunter and Bobby Portis still on the board.

The hope with Anderson is fairly obvious: with his physical profile and improved shooting, Dallas has designs on making him a 3-and-D role player. There's certainly reasons to think this is a possibility and not purely projection. Anderson transformed his shooting mechanics as a junior, eliminating a lot of pre-shot movement in his hands, keeping the ball in front of him instead of cocking it behind his head and improving his consistency with his landing and follow-through to stay balanced and not lean or fall away too much.

Meanwhile, the latter part of the 3-and-D profile has never been in much doubt. Anderson looked like a chiseled specimen when he was 15 and his size plus athleticism were enough to make him a fringe prospect even before the shooting adjustments happened. He definitely showed can shut down players on a given play, like this gif indicates, but we'll come back to his defense.

With his long arms, explosive leaping ability and strength to finish through contact, there is even hope that he'll be able to attack closeouts and get to the rim occasionally, especially if he's making enough shots to force defenses to charge at him.

If you sense that there is a "but" coming, then you are right, and it is a multi-faceted "but." Let's start with Anderson himself.

There are people in the scouting community who fear Anderson's 45 percent mark is a fluke. Most statistical projections are wary of that sort of sudden, dramatic improvement, which is why Anderson did not fare especially well in many analytic models. Even more conventional, human-based wisdom leaves me skeptical. I'm not a shot mechanic expert by any means, but I have a hard time buying that slight alterations to his form could create such a drastic difference in result, at least the sustainable sort of difference.

A few other facts aid my skepticism. Anderson was just 1-for-9 on threes in four March games in the ACC and NCAA tournaments after returning from a hand injury. This was some of the highest quality competition Virginia faced all season and just a tease of what Anderson will face personally on a nightly basis at the next level. Now, before you say "hey, maybe the hand injury is to blame for that shooting," also keep in mind that Anderson was just 7-of-25 in the six game leading up to the injury. Was he in a slump, or was he cooling off from the flukish start to the season that he had?

Anderson also rated fairly poorly by Synergy in non-three-point jump shots, and especially so in off-dribble situations. Even in as player-friendly an offensive system as Dallas runs, it's going to be tough for a player to live entirely off of wide-open looks where no dribble is required.

Then there's the defense, and this is a topic that should be discussed within the context of how he fits on the current Mavs roster (which is admittedly in flux). Anderson has been praised as a great athlete, and indeed his ability to play above the rim is notable. However, exactly how good an athlete he is laterally as opposed to vertically is something I would like to see more of before I make the sort of judgement that is implied by throwing out phrases like "potential defensive stopper."

Anderson's lane agility time at the NBA Combine was worse than all but three of the 19 shooting guard/small forward prospects who participated at the combine. Before we scoff at this, keep in mind that Anderson is carrying more than 230 pounds around, which is a lot of meat for someone who may see most of his playing time next year at the two. He may need to slim down into the 220 to 225 range that most of the best NBA guards carry on them if that's where he ends up playing.

Anderson played forward at Virginia and you like his strength as an asset there moreso than as a guard. There had even been some talk of Anderson as a flexible part time smallball 4, so to play him next to Parsons and Dirk is pivoting him in the wrong direction positionally.

For all of Anderson's obvious athletic gifts, there is also the question of why that athleticism did not manifest itself more prominently in his statline. His rebound rate was fairly average for a forward, as was his block rate, and his steal rate was decidedly below average. Now, to be fair, it's true that Tony Bennett's pack-line defensive system may have taken some steal opportunities away from Anderson. "Pack-line" means that a defense packs players behind an established line (usually around of the three-point horizon), and keeps any help defenders behind that line at all times. Still, you would think Anderson would have swatted a few more attempts than he did, with his 43-inch vertical and everything. When there is a disconnect between the scouting report and the athletic indicators, you worry about that player's feel for the game and basketball IQ, as well as his effort.

Anderson is by all accounts a fine young man, widely considered intelligent, hard-working and selfless. In pre-draft interviews Anderson talked at length about being "a good teammate" and in that way he fits the mold as a Maverick, since the organization has valued character guys who sacrifice for the team. Even if I have some questions about what position he best defends in man-on-man situations, I can buy into the hype that Rick Carlisle can coax the requisite effort from him as a team defender, and maximize his physical tools at that end.

And Anderson had better defend, because I'm really not sure he's going to bring a ton to the table offensively. His dribbling is fairly basic; he isn't particularly fluid but more like a bull who runs only in a straight line. The most he scored in a game at Virginia was 24 points (and he only broke 20 four times), although that can be partially explained by Virginia running the third slowest system in all of college basketball. His assist rate, which was promising as a freshman, declined steadily in each season. To his credit, his turnover rate shrunk significantly in his junior year, so at least Anderson knows who he is and doesn't force the action. But that still makes him very one dimensional, with that one dimension being held up by one year of positive data.

Looking at this pick in a larger context, I suppose I wonder why Dallas decided to go after a player whose upside is likely a role player or fringe starter when there were players available like Bobby Portis and R.J. Hunter who could offer more across-the-board contributions. Dallas liked Anderson's defensive toughness and that was clearly a major advantage over Hunter, but for me, taking a player like Anderson is sort of a "one guy away" move that contenders make by factoring specific need into their evaluation. Maybe Dallas thinks they've got a really good shot at getting LaMarcus Aldridge and therefore views the safest gamble to be taking a near-ready player who can cheaply fill out the starting lineup.

Whatever the case may be, Justin Anderson is a Maverick now. If his shooting tails off and more closely resembles his first couple of seasons at Virginia, then Dallas may regret not choosing another prospect at No. 21. But there is plenty to like about the pick as long as the three-point shooting is not a mirage. Anderson isn't going to score enough to be a star, but for those who were clamoring for Dallas to improve their outside shooting and their perimeter defense, you may have just got your guy.