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The Dallas Mavericks caught lightning in a bottle when they drafted Justin Anderson.
It takes one look at the numbers his first two years at Virginia to see the potential that was oozing out of the 22-year-old wing by his junior year. His 3-point percentage skyrocketed to 45 percent after shooting 29.4 percent the year prior. His points per game went up to 12.2 in his final college season while averaging two assists and four rebounds.
Anderson wasn't a prolific scorer at Virginia. He moved well without the ball and played great defense. Offensive potential was there, but those two traits had to be atop the Mavericks' scouting report when he was taken 21st overall.
Anderson has played 38 games and started one, averaging 2.8 points in 8.1 minutes this season. He's provided small glimpses of what he's capable of producing on a nightly basis for the Mavs, like this sequence against the Miami Heat on Feb. 3.
The problem, however, is he's not getting enough chances. Out of the six games Anderson has played 15 minutes or more this year, four of those have come with the Mavericks losing by at least 15 points. The lone win in that sequence resulted in Anderson having a plus/minus of plus-13.
But, instead of throwing Anderson into the rotation to be the primary backup small forward to Chandler Parsons —which would make a lot of sense — head coach Rick Carlisle has done what he's done for years in Dallas by not giving young players an opportunity to grow and make mistakes.
Whether the Mavericks' brass wants to believe it or not, a youth movement needs to take place soon and it needs to result in guys like Anderson getting some much-needed minutes, not sitting at the end of the bench and hoping Carlisle points his way. Our own Josh Bowe said it best after Dallas lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Feb. 24: against a team with as much athleticism as OKC has, throwing an athletic guy out there would've made sense.
And it doesn't seem that Anderson will be getting increased chances anytime soon, with Carlisle throwing out three-guard lineups and David Lee at backup center. Not giving Anderson minutes to go against the likes of a Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson or James Harden — just to name a few because, holy crap, the Western Conference is stacked with those kinds of players — doesn't give him the right opportunities to showcase the good he can give the team.
But even looking at the bigger picture, not giving Anderson that time on the floor could put a huge strain on Dallas' plan for the future. ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon noted a legitimate possibility of the Mavericks losing Parsons to his hometown Orlando Magic this summer once he opts out of the final year of his three-year, $46 million deal. It would be a shocker to see Parsons leaving, but as our own Tim Cato pointed out, if the relationship between Carlisle and Parsons reaches a tipping point, Parsons could be gone this summer.
That, in turn, means the new starting small forward is young buck Justin Anderson. (For those of you saying "Kevin Durant": please stop.)
Next season could possibly be the last of Dirk Nowitzki's career. For as high as Anderson's potential is, he's not ready to start because Carlisle hasn't given him a chance to even be a rotational backup player this year. And for maybe good reason: if Dallas wants to give Dirk one final run at a title, those chances are better with Parsons alongside Dirk, rather than a second-year pro.
But Anderson needs more time on the floor if the Mavs are preparing for a Dirk-less future. Anderson is an athletic three who is a good defender and can develop into a solid offensive weapon. Keeping him on the bench over the likes of Charlie Villanueva and J.J. Barea doesn't help that development.
Anderson has too much potential to let him sit near Mark Cuban at the end of the bench. And Carlisle is too good of a coach to halt the development of young players. Something has to give soon.