Since the first-round pick acquired by the Sixers in the Nerlens Noel trade is unlikely to convey, shooting guard Justin Anderson has become the centerpiece. Anderson, the 21st overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, appeared in 51 games with the Mavericks this season, and is averaging 6.5 points and 2.9 rebounds in 13.9 minutes per game.
Two people who watched him on a nightly basis, Mavs Moneyball’s Tim Cato and Kirk Henderson passed along some information on the 23-year-old so Sixers fans can get an idea of what to expect.
1. What were your overall impressions of Justin Anderson after nearly two seasons?
Kirk Henderson: Look at the guy. He's a physical freak in the best of ways. He's built like a middle linebacker or tight end. He has the tools and instincts to be a rotation player, if he can figure out what his best role is. His teammates love him and he works hard. There's something there, but after 100+ games in Dallas we've yet to see anything other than flashes of a good player.
Tim Cato: Justin Anderson was one of my favorite Mavericks these past two seasons. If you'll allow me a moment of self promotion, I wrote one of my better features on him over last summer if you're interested in who he is as a person. He's a talkative, likable player to be around, and he definitely is motivated to be work extremely hard at his game. That's a good combination.
2. What aspects of his game have improved in year two if any?
KH: Let's get this out of the way: year two has been an utter regression for Anderson. With early injuries in Dallas, Anderson had the chance to step up and secure a rotation spot. Due to an inconsistent jumper, a poor handle, and an inability to stick with the game plan, he lost minutes and eventually his spot in the rotation to Dorian Finney-Smith. His shot is just so wildly inconsistent; half the time it looks like a trebuchet. How he shot 48% from beyond the arc his senior year of college is beyond me. Defensively he's also regressed. Take a look at this mess here. This sort of off ball crap happened all the time, which is just inexcusable for a player of his athletic gifts.
TC: That was the most disappointing part of Anderson's second year -- there really isn't something you can point at and say, 'He's looking way better in this area.' The Mavericks wanted him to improve his dribbling and be able to create a few more shots, and they wanted to see fewer mental lapses. Neither of those things have really happened in the time he has played this season, and undrafted rookie Dorian Finney-Smith ended up taking his spot in the rotation.
On the other hand, most of Anderson's minutes came during the Mavericks' miserable 4-17 start. There were many times where he was asked to do something with the ball with five seconds left on the clock, or just felt the need to "do something" because no one else was able. I don't think it's fair to say he has regressed -- he can still be the energy highlight machine we saw last season in the right role. But the growth hasn't quite happened.
3. Anderson was billed as a 3-and-D guy coming out of VA. Is that still feasible?
KH: I'm not sure. I may be a terrible judge of shooting because Jae Crowder couldn't hit the broad side of a barn in Dallas and look at him now. Maybe he will still be able to learn to shoot, but his arms seem a bit too long and his hands too big. Defensively, there's something there. He's just a monster athletically and even instinctually. Last season he became known late season for crazy chase down blocks. He just needs to clean up some really simple stuff and he could be a lockdown defender.
TC: Yes, absolutely. He spent three years in college so he's not young by NBA standards, but he's literally one day older than me so please don't call him old. I'm too emotionally fragile to handle that right now.
For real, I like his work ethic, his athleticism still translates to ridiculous defensive plays and his jump shot looks solid whenever he goes straight up and down. (Too often, he'll lean back a little on it.) There's no doubt he still has that potential.
4. Anderson's spent basically his entire career playing in a slow paced system at Virginia and in Dallas. Could him joining a high tempo team unlock a certain part of his game?
KH: I hadn't even considered that and reading it...yes. His gifts belay a player who should be set loose. He's a freight train in the open court and can jump out of the gym. He needs to be free to make mistakes and figure out who he is. I'd really like it if he stuck in the NBA.
TC: You're right, we didn't get a lot of chances to see Anderson in transition in Dallas. He's athletic and a good finisher, so yes, for sure. I'm not sure he's a strong enough dribbler to consistently lead breaks, but he can make a few clever passes here and there, too. Of course, it still comes with ill-advised barreling into defenders and things like that.
5. Based off what you've seen thus far, what is your expectation for Anderson's career outlook.
KH: I really want to say he's a rotation guy at minimum. At best he could be a starter as the fourth or fifth best guy in the line up.
KH: I think he can stick around the league for 10 years, although his ceiling is probably that of a fifth starter.
6. Lastly, what do you think about the trade in general?
KH: Is it bad if I think this is a highway robbery? I never feel like this during Dallas moves. Anderson really didn't fit with Dallas plans any more and the Mavericks needed youth generally and a young big specifically. I'm ecstatic, even if they have to pay a lot to keep him this summer.
TC: This will be preaching to the choir over at LB (love yall), but I don't know why Philadelphia felt they had to make this move. I would have rather seen the 76ers deal Okafor for literally anything, keep Noel as a backup/injury fill-in for Embiid, and trade him once there's a slightly better option on the table. Ah, well. Trust the process.