The NBA is a league of stars.
We know everything Stephen Curry and LeBron James do. We sound the alarm over every Anthony Davis block and dunk.
That’s all fair, but it makes it easy for role players to not get properly recognized. In the ebb and flow of the season, several role players go through hot streaks that go under the radar.
We’ll try to rectify this issue by awarding a Role Player of the Week Award. This is to highlight a superb week by a player who may not get a ton of coverage. The Week 4 winner is Ryan Anderson.
It’s been an absolute disaster of a start for the Pelicans this season. Injuries have played a huge part in that, as the team has been forced to play replacement-level players. With such a thin roster, every flaw of every player is exacerbated. The few players on the team that should be in an NBA rotation must play extremely well for New Orleans to succeed.
For most of the year, that didn’t happen. The team got off to a 1-11 start and needed to put together a winning streak, or face the cold truth of being out of the playoff picture before the calendar hit December.
Enter Ryan Anderson. He’s always been a streaky player, but he’s emerged red hot this past week, including in the Pelicans’ back-to-back wins against San Antonio and Phoenix to get to 3-11. And if the team is going to get back in the playoff hunt, he’ll have to continue to shoulder a big part of the offensive load.
This may be the Role Player of the Week, but Anderson’s numbers from November 16-22 are those of a superstar offensive player. He notched 28.3 points per game, which trailed only Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook for that time period.
Anderson’s game starts with the three-pointer. If he’s not hitting his jumpers, he’s not effective. But he hit 3.8 threes a game last week, which was fifth-best in the league. And of the four players ahead of him, only Paul George connected on a better percentage, as Anderson hit his at a 46.9 percent clip.
Alvin Gentry was supposed to bring an exciting offense to the Pelicans, but it’s been a struggle, and the offense has looked vanilla at times. Finally, the team seems to be doing more things to get Anderson free.
Take this look out of a timeout:
It was a simple screen the screener look, with Anderson setting a pin-down screen then flashing to the right wing while taking a screen from Dante Cunningham. It was enough to free him up for a second, which is all Anderson needs to pull the trigger.
Anderson is also getting to post up when smaller players guard him. This is key, because a lot of teams try to counter his shooting by having a wing guard him. If Anderson gets a smaller player on him, however, he has a capable post game and a nasty stepback jumper that utilizes his height:
What exactly was P.J. Tucker supposed to do here? Anderson has five inches on him, and Tucker couldn’t do anything but hope he missed the tough look.
Anderson’s offensive output is crucial for New Orleans. Anderson has now surpassed Eric Gordon as the second-leading scorer on the team, and the two of them and Anthony Davis are the only players who can be counted on as offensive threats every night.
Anderson also gives the team one of its few spacing options. Besides Anderson, only Gordon and reserve guard Toney Douglas are shooting over 35 percent from three on the Pelicans. The big man has some serious defensive issues, but he needs to stay on the floor.
Anderson’s surge has finally given Davis some room to operate. The floor seems to constrict on Davis when Anderson isn’t in the game, and coupled with Omer Asik’s struggles, it’s become obvious that the floor spacer needs to be in the crunch-time lineup.
There’s no way Anderson continues to be a top five scorer in the league, but he needs to continue to find good looks in Gentry’s offense for the team to succeed. He may be a role player, but New Orleans desperately needs Anderson to produce if it wants to have a chance at the playoffs.