Spurs’ Anderson picking up his pace

VIDEO: Kyle Anderson led the Spurs with 25 points.

LAS VEGAS – Upholding the San Antonio Spurs’ tradition of veteran leadership, Kyle Anderson pulled his teammates together for a defensive last stand against Brooklyn Thursday. As the Nets worked the ball for a potential game-tying shot, as the seconds ticked off and the tension mounted, it was Anderson lunging out to contest Markel Brown‘s 3-point attempt from out front to preserve the 74-71 outcome.

Anderson, admittedly, is only 21. But he also is the only member of his summer squad with Spurs experience, which gives him seniority. And it showed at the Thomas & Mack Center in this one, as it has all week in Las Vegas and in the Salt Lake City summer games before these.

It is a pivotal offseason for Anderson, the 6-foot-9 small forward who contributions as a rookie were modest (2.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 10.8 minutes, 33 appearances). San Antonio’s roster has been reconfigured around additions such as LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, and a new pecking order likely will emerge among the altered cast of reserves.

For Anderson to have an impact among them, he needed to improve in every way. And that is what he’s been showing, in skill and in assertiveness.

“On that last defensive possession, he’s the one who rallied everybody on the court,” said Becky Hammon, the Spurs assistant serving as head coach here. “He’s the one who’s speaking, he’s the one being more demonstrative in a leadership role. And that’s really what we want to see from him in this setting.”

On a veteran-laden team, no one expected Anderson – the last player picked in the 2014 first round out of UCLA – to play a significant role. But the Spurs have expectations, which explains the hours Anderson has logged since San Antonio was eliminated by the Clippers in the first round.

“He’s put in a ton of work with [shooting coach] Chip Engelland, with [development coach] Chad Forcier during our NBA season,” Hammon said. “He’s been in the gym a lot. He knows our system the best [among summer leaguers], he knows those conversations that coaches have had with him and what’s expected of him, and he has absolutely stepped up and taken control of that.

“We’re happy with what he’s doing right now. We’re going to keep leaning on him a lot.”

Matched up with Brooklyn first-round pick Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Anderson scored 25 points on 10-of-22 shooting – he’s averaging 22.3 points – and chipped in a couple assists. He grabbed eight rebounds, seven on the defensive end, and had two blocks and one steal, defensive stats that indicate desired progress on that end of the floor, too.

Developing defensively in the offseason, often in a gym alone, isn’t as straight-forward as putting up 200 jump shots or free throws to hone a stroke.

“You can learn a lot defensively by watching tape,” Hammon said. “A lot of it, it’s just footwork and concentration. There are simple things, like angles, little things that maybe you can compensate for your lack of speed or athleticism. There are lots of ways to get better defensively other than doing slides in the gym.”

Said Anderson: “For me, it’s being in an athletic stance. Actually being athletic is the problem with me. I think most guys struggle with where to be. I think I know where to be, it’s just a matter of doing it.”

Anderson flashed another skill that caught by surprise anyone familiar with his “Slow-Mo” nickname: Several times he grabbed defensive rebounds and immediately dribbled downcourt. Once, he went end to end, dropping in a little hook shot.

Asked about the play, Anderson laughed.

“Yeah, that’s part of my skill set really,” he said. “Grab a board and being able to start our offense, just like that with the dribble or the advance pass. That’s something I look to do.”

Gregg Popovich would be OK with that in the regular season?

“As long as I don’t turn it over.”

Anderson did sound a little weary from the frequent references to his slowness afoot. This is a game, after all, in which coaches constantly tell players not to rush. Superstars are lauded for their ability to “slow the game down.”

“That’s just a nickname really,” the Spurs forward said. “I don’t play that way on purpose. I guess it’s deceptive.

“There’s not a rule you have to play fast.”

Based on this summer, at least, Anderson figures to get where he’s going.

6 Comments

  1. birdie says:

    I’m proud of Kyle. He’s made great strides!

  2. Mark says:

    Third paragraph: “…who contributions..”

  3. Paul says:

    Great article, Steve.

  4. robb says:

    c’mon granpa you can do it !