I was planning on writing about the differences in emotion after the 2014 draft vs. the 2013 draft tonight and then the news broke that the Sixers waived James Anderson. Coming just hours before the NBA’s free agent period begins the news won’t cause so much as a ripple around the league. Most NBA fans won’t know who he is and his sudden free agency will be dwarfed by all the big names about to change teams. It is probably not a stretch to say that he was the least known player to start more than 50 games last year. It wouldn’t even be a stretch to say most casual Sixers fans wouldn’t even remember him and that is a shame.
James Lee Anderson from El Dorado, Arkansas started 62 games for the 2013-2014 Philadelphia Seventy Sixers. He had previous never started more than two games in a season, heck his previous record for games played was 51 for the Spurs in 2011-2012. In four seasons he’s played for four teams, not including the Austin Toros of the D-League, the definition of a journeyman. Looking at both his career and his numbers the best adjective you might come up with would be ‘non-descript’. He doesn’t do anything particularly well, although he doesn’t do anything particularly horribly either. His defense didn’t stand out as better or worse than anyone else on the Sixers. His shooting was not what you would expect from a starting shooting guard on an up-tempo team, but he didn’t generally shoot the Sixers out of games either. He was the kind of guy that good teams play off the back of the bench. A decent enough 10th man for most squads. For the Sixers he started 62 games.
There is no question the Sixers were built to be bad this season. They played a lot of guys who wouldn’t even get looks from other organizations. The season was about evaluating talent. Most of the players knew that what they were engaged in was basically an extended job interview. Anderson had one advantage over the rest of the unknowns, his familiarity with Brett Brown. They had worked together on the Spurs and that was most likely why Anderson got the shot that he did. It’s hard to say that a guy who averaged 10 points a game for the worst team in the league made the most of his shot, but if you watched him play it would be hard to say otherwise.
Anderson rarely made his presence felt on the court. He wasn’t invisible but he never jumped out at you either. He would hit some threes, chase his man around, make the occasional good pass, grab a rebound or two, all with the air of someone who was just doing his job. In the ebb and flow of the chaotic Sixers offense and defense he lent an air of calm to the proceedings. He was always just there doing his job. You can’t say he was underrated because again, this is a 10th man who started 62 games, but he was one of the large group of guys who make up the bulk of the league that people barely remember five years down the road. James Anderson is the kind of player who would show up in a Miller High Life ad saluting the working-man.
He came to work and did his job the best he could almost every night of what will go down in history as one of the most famous bad seasons in NBA history. Most of the articles about it talk more about Sam Hinkie than they do James Anderson, and that’s what we’ll remember. But there in the middle of all the chaos was James just going about his business with a dignity that you don’t see a lot of on teams that lose that many games. Despite all that, he did have his one shining moment.
On a cool but not too cold November the 13th the Houston Rockets came to the Wells Fargo Center. The Rockets were the ‘it’ team of the early season. The off-season they had acquired Dwight Howard, the free agent prize, and looked ready to compete in the tough western conference. The Sixers were a surprising 5-4 and had people wondering if they really were as bad as predicted. Michael Carter-Williams, the Sixers red hot rookie, was out with a knee issue and Tony Wroten was starting in his place. It was the first start of Wroten’s career and he would use it to begin carving out his own legend - but it was Anderson’s night to shine. James Harden was out for Rockets, so the Sixers caught a bit of a break.
I was sitting in the the upper mezzanine near an Asian family decked out in Jeremy Lin paraphernalia. The polish may have come off his diamond a little bit but don’t let anyone tell you Linsanity is dead. Everytime he comes to town the Wells Fargo Center is full of Lin and Rocket fans. As a side note, it was also notable for the first fight I’ve seen in several seasons as a season ticket holder, sadly instigated by Philadelphia fans picking on visiting Rocket fans. Not a great example to make, but we saw them being hauled off in cuffs, so hopefully they learned their lesson. Back to James Anderson.
The game was fast paced and fun. The Sixer and Rockets traded blows most of the game with the Sixers pulling away in the 4th quarter. But what made it memorable was Anderson. He came out firing and it seemed like he couldn’t miss. Free of the concern of guarding the unguardable James Harden, Anderson took the offense on his back. He put up eight three pointers, making six, and it felt like he couldn’t miss. He was perfect from the line and and ended up scoring a career high 36 on 12 of 16 shooting. For 44 minutes he played the most perfect basketball of his season and probably his career. He even added in five rebounds and three steals without a turn over. Wroten chipped in a triple double but the night clearly belonged to James, just not the James everyone expect.
The game was one of the high points of the season. It was fast, exciting, and mostly well played. It was one of the last times the Sixers looked like a team that might actually be a tough out and not a pushover. He would only top 20 points twice more with 20 against OKC and then 30 against Houston in Houston. It’s worth noting that he was briefly with the Rockets but was cut in training camp. He might harbor some lingering resentment.
There isn’t much more to say about him. He won’t be remembered particularly fondly if anyone remembers him at all. The Sixers never sold an official jersey with his name and number. He will probably catch on somewhere as a 10th or 11th man, or maybe in the D-League. He might end up overseas. It’s hard to say for a guy like him. A true NBA journeyman.
One last note before I wrap this up. There was one moment in the season that perfectly summed up the Sixers year for me and it was small play against the Toronto Raptors. It was the night one one of the drives the Sixers have on occasion where if you bring a book or a toy you can get an autograph after the game. It was a few nights after the Houston game and the Sixers were not playing well. They ended up losing by ten and it wasn’t even that close. Anderson didn’t have a particularly good game finishing with 13 points on 5-11 shooting. But he did have one moment that it’s possible I’m the only who even remembers. During a bad switch Anderson ended up in the post guarding Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors 6’11 231 pound center. Anderson for the record is 6’6 215. He was outweighed and dwarfed by the Raptors big man. The Raptors had not noticed the bad switch yet and still had the ball on the perimeter. The was when I saw Anderson with his shoulder in Valaciunas’ back pushing, hammering him, doing everything he could to move the giant he was now tasked with guarding out of the paint. Valaciunas leaned in and put a hand up to get ask for the ball. Anderson kept fighting to no avail. As soon as Lowry noticed the mismatch he got the ball down low and Valaciunas put it through the rim with a little baby hook. It was an easy bucket that for all of Anderson’s fight there was nothing he could do to stop it, but that didn’t stop him trying. He just shook it off and headed down the court with his head held high.
Later after the game Anderson signed autographs for maybe 200 fans. He had a smile on his face the whole time.
He won’t be remembered for long, but he will be missed.