The San Antonio Spurs are 36-6, winners of 11 straight and destroying opponents by 14.2 points per game, which is 2.5 points higher than that of the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Gregg Popovich’s team is off to the best start in franchise history, but for 22-year old Kyle Anderson these Spurs aren’t the most dominant team he’s played for. That would be his St. Anthony teams that went 65-0 and won two state championships in two seasons under the tutelage of Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley.
“I think coach prepared me for these next few levels, college and professional,” said Anderson, who is no novice when it comes to playing for esteemed programs. “I ended up playing with another Hall of Fame coach (Popovich) so I think it’s prepared me for that and he just taught me a lot there.”
Anderson, who first starred at Paterson Catholic and went to Hurley when the school closed down, averaged 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists at UCLA before being selected 30th overall by the Spurs in the 2014 NBA Draft, becoming the first Bergen County native since Teaneck’s Tony Campbell in 1984 to be chosen in the first round. It took a little longer than expected to finally hear his name called, but he couldn’t have landed in a much better situation.
“I didn’t know what to expect really,” Anderson told me about being drafted by one of the NBA’s most successful franchises. “I just came in ready to learn, whether that was from good or bad, I was just ready to learn. I think guys good job of helping me adjust and here we are know.”
Some scouts predicted that it would take some time for the 6-foot-9 point-forward to fully carve out his niche in the NBA and San Antonio has given him that time. Anderson started eight games early last season and showed some promise, but as the season went on, he honed his game while on assignment to the Austin Spurs of the NBA Developmental League. He earned the D-League Player of the Month award last February after averaging 22.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game over a stretch of nine games.
“The D-League helped me out a lot, gave me those reps last year when I wasn’t able to get them in San Antonio,” said Anderson, whose display name on Twitter is “SLOWMO,” because of his more methodical style of play. “Go down there get my rhythm, work on my game and I think I got a lot better for it. Kind of like a farm system.”
After Jan. 1 he played in just a handful of games in San Antonio – scoring just a total of six points. The Fairview, N.J. native mostly watched as the Spurs endured an early playoff exit, but he opened up eyes across the league with his impressive showing in the NBA’s 2015 Las Vegas Summer League. En route to leading Becky Hammond’s squad to the tournament championship, Anderson was named the league’s Most Valuable Player after averaging 22 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game
He’s played in 39 of the Spurs’ 46 games this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.1 rebounds in 11.9 minutes per game. His season-high 13 points came in the Spurs’ 123-98 win over the Utah Jazz two weeks ago and he scored eight points in 12 minutes during Sunday’s win over the Mavericks.
The second year forward is in and out of the rotation. He’ll play 15-20 minutes one game, maybe 10 minutes three games later, and then five minutes – if he’s lucky – after that. He isn’t immune to a DNP, either, suffering that fate three of the last 15 games. The youngster could have used the argument that he hasn’t had enough consistent court time to work things out, but he knows how special it is to be learning from a cast of Hall of Famers.
“Not really in awe, but I do like to learn from a lot of these guys,” Anderson says of playing with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. “I’m not afraid to ask questions, whether it’s on the court or off the court. I’m just willing to learn from guys that have been here so long.”
Players with his height and length typically don’t have the ball-handling ability and vision he has, but he probably isn’t suited to be a primary ball-handler in the league. His comparison could look something like this version of Shaun Livingston or the younger version of Boris Diaw, and Anderson should benefit by the NBA becoming more and more of a position-less league.
“I was fortunate enough to grow to be this tall and keep the ball-handling and passing skills so that’s always been a plus,” Anderson said of working on his dribbling skills with his Dad, who played for Division I St. Peter’s College. “I’m happy he raised me to be that way.”
Anderson may be a unique talent, but his outside shot still needs work and his perimeter defense is spotty at times. He’s still a work in progress and it’s still too early to know what kind of player he can be in the NBA. The Spurs exercised the third-year option for Anderson for the 2016-17 season and they are well known for patiently developing players.
Anderson is a perfect Spur in a lot of senses. He doesn’t have the athleticism, but he does have good fundamentals and high basketball IQ. He also possesses a rare combination of length, rebounding ability and passing skills. Now it’s a matter of putting all those skills together and continuing to grow as the Spurs continue to steamroll the NBA.