MEMPHIS – When training camp opened earlier this week, Grizzlies forward Kyle Anderson was uncertain how much he could initially contribute in his return from offseason shoulder surgery.
After two days of extensive practice followed by Thursday’s precautionary day off for rest and recovery, the early returns on Anderson’s impact have impressed new coach Taylor Jenkins. The Grizzlies wrapped up the bulk of their training camp preparation Thursday with a film session and a single practice on the heels of twice-daily workouts both Tuesday and Wednesday.
With players headed for a lightened workload without a scheduled practice Friday, Jenkins had a moment to reflect on what the Grizzlies have accomplished during a productive week. Count Anderson’s desire to push himself beyond initial expectations among the more encouraging developments.
“He’s looked really confident post-surgery, and the high IQ really stands out,” Jenkins said of Anderson’s training camp approach. “He came in and he was ready to go. He thought about it more and, you know, he was eager to get out there and really start practicing with his teammates and integrating himself.”
Apparently, Anderson didn’t want to spend too much time playing catch-up entering the season. The Grizzlies announced last week that Anderson was “progressing as expected” from April’s thoracic outlet decompression surgery on his right shoulder. The team anticipated the six-year veteran would participate in camp to some extent. Anderson then confirmed at Monday’s media day that he wasn’t yet “100 percent” and was unsure if he would be ready by the Oct. 23 season opener against Miami.
He came in and he was ready to go. He thought about it more and, you know, he was eager to get out there and really start practicing with his teammates and integrating himself.Taylor Jenkins
A day later, the versatile 6-foot-9 forward was on the court with teammates as a full participant in the first two days of drills and scrimmage sessions. Anderson is competing with fellow veterans Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill for primary minutes at small forward, although all three candidates could see time at multiple spots in Jenkins’ “position-less” system.
The Grizzlies are installing an up-tempo scheme Jenkins hopes will have the team operating among the top half of the league in offensive pace and production. At face value, that concept doesn’t necessarily jibe with the methodical and deliberate style of play that earned Anderson the ‘Slo Mo’ nickname.
He’s willing to adjust by any means necessary.
“I’m a basketball player who can do a lot,” said Anderson, one of only seven returning players from last season’s roster. “I see myself fitting in just fine. I don’t see a problem (fitting into) the way we play – thinking it’s going to be difficult for me. I feel like I can adjust. I will be learning and doing my due diligence on where I can see myself being effective, and just go from there.”
Based on advanced metrics, Anderson rated as one of the most efficient and effective small forwards in the league two years ago during his final season with the Spurs. The Grizzlies signed him to a four-year, $37.2 million contract last summer as a restricted free agent.
Anderson was bothered by lingering shoulder soreness for at least the past three seasons, but admits he downplayed the level of discomfort as he tried to push through the issues to stay on the court. Still, Anderson was effective enough to shoot 54.3 percent from the field and average 8.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.3 steals and a block in 43 games last season. But as the pain persisted, he twice left the team to see specialists and was ultimately shut down in February.
Looking back, Anderson wishes he had addressed the shoulder issue much sooner.
I’m happy with how the process is going. I’ve been working with a shooting coach. So it’s headed in the right direction.Kyle Anderson
“If I could do it again, I probably would have told somebody or made it more important earlier in my career when it was hurting,” Anderson said. “I’ve just been battling with it for so long that I’m just happy I got on top of it, finally. I don’t have the tingling in my hand and up around my neck anymore. A lot of the symptoms went away, which is good. I feel like it is headed in the right direction. It’s not back to normal, but I can feel it at times getting back to where I want it.”
Player: Jae Crowder
Year: 8th NBA Season
Measurables: 6-6, 235
2018-19 Stats: 11.9ppg, 4.8rpg, 1.7apg (Jazz)
Camp Question: The mental toughness, defensive mindset and leadership have already proven to be valuable in training camp, but is Crowder a season-long keeper or short-term stopgap?
Player: Kyle Anderson
Year: 6th NBA Season
Measurables: 6-9, 230
2018-19 Stats: 8.0ppg, 5.8rpg, 3.0apg
Camp Question: Can Anderson get completely healthy, stay healthy and find a way to effectively adjust his methodical but versatile game to the Grizzlies’ up-tempo pace?
Player: Solomon Hill
Year: 7th NBA Season
Measurables: 6-7, 225
2018-19 Stats: 4.3ppg, 3.0rpg, 1.2apg (Pelicans)
Camp Question: With the Grizzlies needing to trim two players on the roster by the start of the season, could the streaky veteran on an expiring deal be expendable?
Anderson does not shoot threes at the rate Jenkins would prefer at the hybrid forward position. However, Anderson’s ability to rebound in traffic, initiate transition by pushing the ball and then finding open teammates are all strengths of his game. Before he was sidelined midway through the season, Anderson was the best facilitator the team had at getting the ball to rising star Jaren Jackson Jr. on lobs for easy scores. What he lacks in athleticism and speed, Anderson makes up for with vision and instincts.
Jenkins recognizes the intangibles and intelligence, which are byproducts of San Antonio’s system. Jenkins moved on to Atlanta in 2013 with Mike Budenholzer after the two coached in the Spurs organization under Gregg Popovich. The following year, San Antonio selected Anderson late in the first round of the 2014 draft. So Jenkins and Anderson didn’t overlap in San Antonio, but there’s still a common bond.
“He’s set a tone in a lot of our drills defensively,” Jenkins said of his initial impressions of Anderson. “And from where he’s come from in San Antonio, that background is what we’re kind of building around here with the fundamentals. So he looks great.”
I’ve just been battling with it for so long that I’m just happy I got on top of it, finally. I don’t have the tingling in my hand and up around my neck anymore. A lot of the symptoms went away, which is good. I feel like it is headed in the right direction. It’s not back to normal, but I can feel it at times getting back to where I want it.Kyle Anderson
That respectful recognition is mutual.
“He came from being under Bud, who coached under Pop, who I played for,” Anderson said of Jenkins. “I’ve kind of been there before. I think I have a good feel for what he wants to do. We’ve talked, we’ve shared a meal together and we’re both excited for it to be a good season.”
The Grizzlies are also in good shape with veteran depth and versatility at the position. Crowder, a rugged defender with three-point range who has been to the playoffs with each of his previous three teams, is in position to secure the starting small forward job. Hill is another proven veteran who had productive seasons in Indiana and New Orleans as a streaky 3-and-D specialist.
Beyond that, the Grizzlies also have Josh Jackson and Andre Iguodala on the roster – although both players are not with the team in training camp and won’t have rotation roles entering the season.
Meanwhile, Anderson just wants to get back to being a productive participant in the action.
“I feel solid – not 100 percent yet, but I’m making progress every day,” Anderson said. “I’m happy with how the process is going. I’ve been working with a shooting coach. So it’s headed in the right direction.”
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