New Orleans Pelicans Season in Review: Ryan Anderson

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Published: May 8, 2015

Ryan Anderson’s 2013-14 season was unfortunately cut far too short as a result of an in-game collision in early January with the Celtics’ Gerald Wallace. Prior to that accident, though, Anderson was having the best shooting season of his career, hitting about 41% of his 3-point attempts to go along with a career low turnover rate of just 5% in 22 games played. That version of Anderson was the perfect offensive complement to Anthony Davis – a hyper-efficient, mistake-free stretch 4 who could give the growing, maturing Davis all the space he could ever want in the paint.

This season’s version of Anderson, while able to play in nearly three times as many games (61 total), never was able to approach the kind of consistency that Pelicans fans have been used to seeing from him on the offensive end. Ryno posted his lowest PER since his rookie season (though still slightly above league average at 15.6) along with the lowest offensive rebound rate of his career, an area in which he has historically performed reasonably well. Without further adieu, let’s take a look back at Ryan Anderson’s 2014-15 season.

Shot Charts

Anderson shot charts - Clemens

Anderson shot charts - Nylon Calculus

Courtesy of NBASavant & Austin Clemens

The above charts are provided just to give some perspective on Ryan Anderson’s 2014-15 season (left) relative to his career norms (right). We know that Anderson’s shooting took a dip this year, and these shot charts allow us to gain some additional insight on where in particular he struggled most.

The Good

Floor Spacing

Even when Anderson isn’t shooting well, he is still helping the offense because of the threat he poses when left open beyond the arc. Opponents know that a month or two of poor shooting (mainly on the road) isn’t the norm when his career 3-point success rate hovers around 38%. A litmus test for this notion can be seen by looking at how the team has performed with Anderson and Omer Asik on the floor and Anthony Davis on the bench (courtesy of NBAWowy). In 359 such minutes throughout the 2014-15 season, Ryno shot a brutal 27% from 3-point range on 74 attempts (roughly 20% of his 3-point attempts for the season), and yet the Pelicans scored 103.9 points per 100 possessions in that time, an above average offensive rating (for reference, the 15th and 16th best offensive units posted an ORtg of 102.5 this season).

Think about that – a Pelicans unit with a front court consisting of Omer Asik and Anderson shooting bricks while Anthony Davis is watching from the bench still scored more efficiently than the NBA average offensive unit this season. What you should be thinking – “HOW ON EARTH IS THAT POSSIBLE?!” The answer is floor spacing. Tyreke Evans has played in 246 of those 359 minutes, and in that time, his true shooting percentage was 56.2%, far above his TS% for the season of 50.8%. The same goes for Eric Gordon (58.7% TS% in 155 minutes w/ Ryno & Asik, 54.4% for the season) and Jrue Holiday (59.7% TS% in 113 minutes w/ Ryno & Asik, 52.2% for the season). Even when Anderson is struggling mightily, he still helps the rest of the offense purely based on his proven ability throughout his career to knock down shots from the perimeter.

Home Ryno

If you throw out all of Ryan Anderson’s road games, fans would see the same productive, efficient player that they have become used to seeing throughout his 3-year New Orleans career. Anderson came into the season with a career 3P% of around 38.5%, then managed to shoot 41.7% from 3-point range at the Smoothie King Center this season. There isn’t really much else to say here; all of his shooting splits, whether based on the shot clock, location, or openness of his shot, look largely in line with his career numbers. Quite simply, Ryan Anderson was normal Ryan Anderson in New Orleans.

Ball Protection

Whether or not his shots are falling, the one thing you have always been able to count on throughout Ryan Anderson’s career is his ability to avoid turning the ball over. Sure, a big part of his low turnover rate is due to a significant percentage of his usage rate coming from simply catching the ball and shooting it. But Anderson doesn’t only shoot threes; he is also known to handle the ball in the post, as well as face up to his defender and put the ball on the floor. The fact that Anderson’s turnover rate has not surpassed 8% since the 2009-10 season is a testament to how much he values protecting the basketball and preventing the opponent from getting easy transition scoring opportunities. Only 25 times in NBA history has a player finished the season with a rebound rate of ~10%, a usage rate of 20%, and a turnover rate of < 7.5%; Anderson has done it twice, including his 2014-15 season. The only other guys on the list to do it 2+ times? LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Jefferson, Antawn Jamison, and Blair Rasmussen. Not bad company, especially considering what Anderson is making annually relative to the first two.

The Bad

Defense

Let’s talk about Ryan Anderson’s defense (or lack thereof) for a bit. There has been a frequent complaint this season about Anderson’s defensive shortcomings, and they’re fair criticisms – Anderson is not good defensively. Let’s stop pretending like this is something new, though; Ryno has not been anywhere near even an average defender since joining New Orleans. His 2-year defensive adjusted plus/minus for 2012-13 and 2013-14 (not a big enough sample size to use APM for only 22 games in 2013-14) was among the worst in the league, especially when you evaluate him next to other big men or just the players who played a similar amount of minutes. This season has been no exception, as Anderson rates as the second defensive worst power forward in the NBA based on ESPN’s real plus-minus calculation. However, because he struggled offensively more than he has in the past, people jumped all over him for that bad defense which was criticized far less often throughout his first two years in New Orleans. Unfortunately, there is no getting around the fact that Ryan Anderson will never be a plus defender; however, in a large percentage of circumstances, the benefits he provides for an offense outweighs the costs the team incurs on the defensive end. When fully healthy, he can defend in the post for spurts, but in the long run, Anderson is going to struggle.

Road Ryno

Here is where things start to get really strange. Though admittedly a small sample size, Anderson shot 42.7% (38-89) from 3-point range on the road in 2013-14 before his season-ending injury. If you’re following at home, that’s a higher percentage than he shot at home last year. Even in his first season with New Orleans in 2012-13, he hovered right around 38% from long range both at home and on the road. This season, however, something drastically changed, and Anderson struggled mightily away from NOLA. He connected on just 27.2% (52-191) of his road 3-point attempts. 40% of his road 3-point attempts were “open” looks (classified by NBA.com’s stats tool as shots taken with a defender between 4 and 6 feet from the shooter), of which he connected on only 20.8%. Roughly 70% of his road 3PA came with between 7-18 seconds left on the shot clock, making about 27% of those, so being rushed to beat the shot clock isn’t really a possible explanation either. Really, the best possible explanation is that he was never 100% healthy all season, and his body didn’t react to travel as well as it has in prior seasons. This theory is speculative at best, and there is certainly a chance that this poor shooting was simply an unlikely fluke. Nevertheless, it is something to keep an eye on next season to ensure that this poor shooting away from the SKC doesn’t become the norm.

Offensive Rebounding

Probably Ryan Anderson’s most notable secondary asset to his 3-point shooting is his proficiency on the offensive glass, carrying a career offensive rebound rate of 10.3% into this season. Unfortunately, that trend did not continue, as Ryno’s 2014-15 ORR% dipped all the way down to 7.3%. There are two factors that best explain this dip, with varying degrees of relevance – the addition of Omer Asik and Anderson’s health. Though worth mentioning, the impact of the rebounding upgrade from Greg Stiemsma to Omer Asik was likely minimal in relation to Anderson’s rebound rate. The more likely negative factor was Anderson’s recovery from his season-ending injury the year before, as a herniated disk is not something that should be taken lightly. Anderson couldn’t be blamed if he was more cautious this season than he typically has been when banging bodies down low with players larger than himself. If he continues to be a non-factor on the offensive glass next season, then we can start to raise some red flags, but for now, I’m willing to give Ryno the benefit of the doubt after such a scary injury.

Summary

Comparing Anderson’s 2014-15 season to the rest of his career makes his most recent campaign appear to be more of aberration than a new trend. That being said, Anderson’s decline in production cannot simply be written off as something that definitely will not happen again. With an offseason of rest during which he is not rehabilitating a major injury, the most likely outcome is that Anderson returns to his typical, lethal shooting and offensive glass attacking form. Assuming this indeed occurs, the Pelicans will have a difficult decision to make regarding Ryan, as his contract expires at the end of this coming season. For now, though, let’s all just root for Anderson to get back on track next fall.

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