Trouble Igniting the Flamethrower? Anderson Through 30 Games

Published: December 31, 2014

With about one-third of the NBA season now over, we have come to a strange place. Christmas ushers in a time of reflection, a time to stop and think, “Oh ,wow, I blew a lot of money on Dome and SKC beer this year.” Then, New Years hits and, we immediately turn around, look towards the future, and start making vows we won’t keep, like, “I’m not buying beer at games anymore.” At 16-15 the Pelicans are in a strange place too, sandwiched into 9th in the West between Phoenix and Oklahoma City, hanging tough in the playoff race with one of the most difficult schedules in the NBA so far.  Reflecting back there are questions from the offseason about the team that still need to be answered, but one that I find myself asking more and more is, “Will Ryan Anderson be the same player after the injury to his neck last season?”

Note: The statistics in this article do not include the Suns game unless specifically noted.




Anderson was lighting it up last season before suffering a herniated disk in a game against the Celtics (January 3rd, 2014). In 22 games he made 67 out of 164 3-point attempts (40.9%). Here is Anderson’s cumulative FG% and 3pt% tracked throughout this season:

Currently, Anderson sits at 67 3’s made, but this time around it has taken him 202 attempts (5th most in the league). He is shooting 3’s at a pretty low percentage (33.2%) considering his 38.1% career mark and 35% NBA-average this season, and over half of all his shots are from deep. His FG% of 41.6% would be his lowest since his rookie year. Had he been shooting his career 38%, he would have 9-10 more 3PM, a difference of about 1 point/game for the Pelicans. It may not seem like much, but 1 point/game is about what separates the Pelicans (101.6ppg) from the Spurs (102.8ppg) in terms of scoring, and could possibly be the difference between 15 wins and 18 or 19 wins—those 9 or 10 shots could be the difference in a number of games, such as:

  • Loss @ Dallas, December 10th
    • Anderson was 0-2 from deep that game, including a good look with 5 seconds left to tie the game
  • Loss against Golden State, December 14th
    • Anderson goes 2-8 from 3 (5-16 overall) as the Pels lost this one in OT
  • Loss @ Washington, November 29th
    • Anderson goes 4-11 from the field and 1-4 from deep as the Pels lost a close one by 3

Nothing against Washington, Golden State, or Dallas, they are all very good playoff teams, but those were winnable games that, had Anderson been his normal self, could have gone the other way. He already has 11 games with 1 or fewer made 3’s, compare that to the last couple years:


Games Played Games with 0 3PM
This Season                  30                          7
Last Two Seasons                 103                          6


So what’s up, why is Anderson shooting so poorly from 3? Watching all his 3pt attempts on his shot looks fine; it is not who he is being matched up against, and it is not the looks he is getting.  He just seems to be in a slump.

Now, I am no medical professional but maybe finding his range is the flamethrower’s last lingering effect of his injury, otherwise the only thing I can come up with is that his shots just aren’t falling (which isn’t a very satisfying conclusion). However, it is worth mentioning that Anderson’s recovery from his neck injury and subsequent surgery went about as smoothly as it possibly could. Initially scheduled to be out for 6 months after surgery in April, he was cleared by mid-July for physical therapy and running, a month later he was cleared for cardio and shooting, and by early September he was cleared for contact. There were no setbacks.

On the positive side, he is still managing to provide for the Pelicans offense. Looking at his On/Off numbers, the team shoots better and has a +8 offensive rating when he is on the court compared to when he is off. He still is a 3-point-threat who can get very hot at any time, just ask the Cavaliers.  In two games against Cleveland, Anderson went off for 30 and 32 on 8-12 and 8-14 shooting from 3. But, range problems aside, he has also added to his game — he has become more of a go-to-scorer.

He is putting up 15 a game with an above average 17.3 PER and 54.0 TS% because he is shooting better than he ever has from everywhere else besides 3, over 50% on all 2pt shots in aggregate:


FG% From ___ 0-3ft 3-10ft 10-16ft 16-3pt
Career 56% 33% 35% 42%
This Season 61% 53% 40% 40%**

**shooting less from this distance than in the past 2 seasons


Anderson is being assisted on 59.8% of all his field goals—that is a career low by over 5%. He is taking more and more shots unassisted, especially when Davis isn’t on the floor. He is playing about 5 more minutes with Davis than not, but when Davis is on the bench, Anderson’s usage rate shoots up over 6%. His post ups are productive, he is drawing more fouls, and his turnarounds, fade-aways, and step backs are falling as he has become a more than just a shooter for the team.

However looking at the other side of his On/Off stats reveals another problem Anderson is having.




First I want to say something about his rebounding. You guessed it, at a career low. A rebounding rate sitting at about 10% puts him among the league’s worst bigs; he is only grabbing 5 a game.

Anderson is a below average defender, but this season has been pretty poor. If he was making his 3’s he would undoubtedly be providing more on offense than he is giving up on defense, but he isn’t so it is much, much closer. When he is on the court opponents have a +6 offensive rating compared to when he is on the bench. Every night is a question of whether Anderson will break out of his shooting slump enough to cover his lack of defense (according to his defensive rating is actually the same as his offensive rating through 30 games, giving him a net rating of 0).  Opponents shoot 61.9% against Anderson at the rim, which is just a hair better than Luke Babbit at 62.3%.

Vantage Sports put out an article on his defense that is pretty well put together, and I’ll quote them to summarize the article here (but I encourage you to give it a read):

Ryan Anderson is allowing opponents to shoot 51.54 FG% against his defense, easily the worst mark for all power forwards and centers… Ranking at or near the bottom of nearly every universal defensive Vantage metric, Ryan Anderson very well might be the worst defensive big in the league this season so far.

Yikes. And that FG% has risen to 55.6% according to You can argue he isn’t really the worst defensive big but that isn’t the point, the point is he gives up points, and he isn’t getting points like he was. His defensive play has earned him a new position actually, as has him as playing Center 52% of the time now with coach Williams trying to hide his defensive inefficiencies.

The Pelicans need Anderson to step up his game if they want to have any hope of making the playoffs this season; he has been a staple of the team’s offense since arriving in New Orleans.  His defending and rebounding need work, but in my honest opinion, I believe his range will come back in time, just hopefully in time to make a difference this season.


Suns Game


Last night, Anderson played well. While 0 of 2 from the free throw line, he was 5 of 6 on 2’s and 3 of 4 on 3’s for a total of 19 points which is slightly above average. He also grabbed 4 rebounds. He played about an average number of minutes, played more defense inside. His offensive rating was slightly better than his defensive rating, all in line with the above. Still, it’s too early to tell if he’s back.


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