Ryan Anderson finally snapped out of his funk in Friday night’s 112-95 victory over the Phoenix Suns. The forward went for 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals, and he shot 6-12 from the field, including 4-7 from three. He even punctuated his night with an emphatic jam over the Sun’s Alex Len, something you don’t often see from the stretch four who usually spends the majority of his time beyond the arc, waiting for a catch-and-shoot opportunity.
It was a vintage Ryno performance, but up until last night’s contest, it had been a long time since we last saw this version of Anderson show up.
Back in November, I wrote two pieces on Anderson and the positive impact he was having on the team, both by playing better at home and playing some respectable defense. Anderson then went out and made me look foolish for the next several weeks.
Shooters, by their very nature, are prone to ups and downs throughout a season, but it’s pretty remarkable (and not in a good way) how much different Anderson had been looking up until the Suns game as compared to a month and a half ago.
Keep in mind that none of this is new hat for anyone who’s watched even a smidgen of Houston Rockets basketball in the past 30 days — Anderson’s struggles have stuck out on the eye test like a sore thumb -- but his issues become even more profound once you take a closer look at the numbers and the splits.
Since scoring 23 points against the Utah Jazz in an away game back on December 7 -- a mere week after I wrote “Ryan Anderson is finally playing well at home” — we’ve seen the full return of the Home Ryno phenomenon. In fact, “return” may be too light of a word in this instance. It’s actually a bit closer to a late Saturday night sci-fi movie. Something more like “Home Ryno’s Revenge: The Return of the Black Hole.”
From December 9 through now, a span of 10 home games, Anderson has some truly black-hole worthy Toyota Center splits of 6 points and 6 rebounds per game. He’s shooting just 32.1 percent from the field at home and his three-point shot has plummeted to 26.5 percent over that span.
Since I wrote “How Ryan Anderson has helped unlock the Rockets’ defensive potential” back on November 11, Ryno has fallen off of a cliff there too.
Anderson’s defensive rating for the month of November was a sparkling 102.3. He lost weight in the offseason, which helped with his quickness and with switching. But since that game against the Jazz on December 7, Anderson’s defensive rating is 111.8 and his defensive wins share total, at one point in the league’s top 100 at the time I wrote the piece praising his defense, has plummeted to out of the top 125 in just several weeks’ time. At one point he was the best isolation defender in the NBA. That’s now slipped as well.
And that’s not all. Though his struggles at home have been the most profound, he hasn’t been that much better on the road. His away shooting percentages do bump to 39.1 percent from the field and 30 percent from three since hitting his recent slump, but those are still both rock-bottom marks that, when combined with his defensive slippage, have made Ryno a huge liability.
In fact, before hitting four triples in the win against Phoenix, you have to go all the way back to that aforementioned Utah game to find the last time Anderson hit more than 2 threes in any game, a span of 18 games. To put that into perspective, in the 21 games prior, he hit more than 2 threes in a game 10 different times.
And his slump has come at the worst possible time. Half of the team is banged up, and the Rockets have been without NBA leading scorer James Harden for two weeks now. Luc Mbah a Moute is still out, and Nene and Tarik Black have both also missed time of late. It’s an all-healthy-hands-on-deck situation for the Rockets, and unfortunately, Anderson has mostly responded by playing his worst ball of the year.
Fortunately, the Rockets have been able to tread water without The Beard. They’re 4-2 in the six games that he’s missed, and they appear to be holding it together after a tough, five-game losing streak back in December and despite the injuries.
They are currently still in second place in the Western Conference and are 3.5 games back of the Golden State Warriors. They hold a 2.5-game lead over the third-place San Antonio Spurs and a 3.5-game lead over the Minnesota Timberwolves. They still have the NBA’s third-best record behind the Dubs and the Boston Celtics. With 30 wins through their first 41 games, they’re on pace for the franchise’s first-ever 60-win season. Things are still looking good in Rockets land.
And with James Harden due back literally any day now, Chris Paul playing some fantastic ball, and Gerald Green a free-agent revelation, the Rockets should be in fine shape moving forward, especially if the Phoenix game is any kind of harbinger of things to come for Ryno.
And if for some reason the Phoenix game is simply a singular positive blip on Anderson’s continual slide, once Nene, Black, and Mbah a Moute get healthy, combined with the unexpected play of Green, the Rockets will have more than enough depth to simply sit Ryno if his struggles drag on.
And if they’re not playing him, Daryl Morey will need to do some serious GMing to get out from under Anderson’s massive $20 million per year contract, of which he still has two more seasons after this one. But that’s a conversation for another day.
For now, let’s hope the Phoenix game gives Anderson his shooter’s confidence back, and he combines with an about-to-get-healthy rest of the roster to close out the second-half of the season as well as they played the first half.