Ryan Anderson is the prototypical "stretch-four" the Rockets have been searching for. Daryl Morey said recently he thinks he's "the best stretch four in the league." But be careful what you wish for, Houston.
With all of Anderson’s positives — crashing the offensive boards, launching threes, and hitting free throws consistently — come many negatives that will hinder the Rockets on both sides of the ball.
Anderson, 28, shot nearly 37% from behind the arc last year, the 11th-best mark among true power forwards. He has the frame of a low-post bruiser but prefers to operate on the perimeter. He can be physical defensively near the hoop but becomes a novice ice skater once he’s drawn away from the basket.
Offensively, Anderson will be most effective in the pick-and-pop with James Harden. He is a solid screener and his outside shooting prowess makes him a legitimate threat on the perimeter. He will bend defenses when he’s off the ball and provide the spacing the Rockets lacked last year. As usual, the offense will predicate on having the ball in Harden’s hands, whether he is isolated or in a pick-and-roll action. Anderson demands attention 20 feet away from the basket, so a Harden-Capela screen and roll becomes even more dangerous with an unclogged lane.
Although he does attract defensive attention on the wing, Anderson is solely a spot-up shooter. Once he takes a dribble, his effectiveness decreases significantly. He has never had the best playmaking ability or court vision, even for a big man. He definitely won’t be able to make as many plays as Josh Smith or Terrence Jones did at the elbow, because he is not as capable of tossing lobs to the rim.
When Anderson gets the ball, he has two options: launch a jumper or swing the ball. It will be pivotal for him to make that decision rapidly during the season. Anderson’s long ball is a weapon, but the Rockets should instill a strict three-dribble limit on him (much like they've been largely successful at with Trevor Ariza).
Additionally, Anderson averaged two offensive rebounds per game last year, which is especially impressive considering how much he operates on the perimeter. With Anderson and Capela crashing the glass, the Rockets will punish teams with putback and second chance opportunities. As long as he gets back on D when his man is on the perimeter, something the Rockets were awful at last season.
The defensive end, (Stephen A. Smith voice) HOWEVA, is where Anderson will certainly struggle and ultimately hurt the team. Despite his size, Anderson gets abused in the post, allowing 1 point per possession on post-ups according to Synergy data. To put that into perspective, Anderson is statistically worse at defending post-ups than Brook Lopez, Frank Kaminsky, Kelly Olynyk, and Donatas Motiejunas.
Defending post-ups isn’t even Anderson’s main concern, though. Teams consistently pick on him by putting him in pick and rolls. His lethargic lateral quickness is exploited, especially if he switches onto a guard.
The Rockets signed the 6’10, 240-pound power forward to a 4 year, $80 million contract this offseason. The upcoming season will be the journeyman’s ninth campaign in the league.
He averaged 17 points and 6 rebounds in 30.4 minutes per game last year and recorded a slightly above average 17.2 PER.
If Anderson sees similar minutes this year, there is no reason why he shouldn’t produce similar numbers. Even if his totals drop off, his efficiency will likely boost because he will be playing with a creator in James Harden as opposed to Anthony Davis, who was an awkward fit.
Anderson will undoubtedly help the offense with his spacing and big body, but will his offensive boost outweigh his liabilities? Acquiring Anderson in the offseason was clearly a continuation of the Rockets’ "all in on offense" mentality, but could the Rockets regret acting on their longstanding fetish for a stretch four?