During last night’s game against the Mavericks, my dad texted me.
“Who can we trade Anderson for?” he asked.
He was following the logic many Rockets fans have followed: Ryan Anderson should be traded at the deadline in two weeks, for whatever Daryl Morey can get back for him.
That could not be further from the truth, and Anderson plays far more important of a role than most fans of this team realize. In fact, Anderson could possibly be the glue that keeps this team together.
A lot of the “Trade Ryno” camp will argue that his numbers have been worse this year, which is true if you look at three-point percentage. Rather than shooting 40.3 percent like he did last year, he’s only shooting 36.9 percent this year, good enough for fourth on the team behind Chris Paul, James Harden and Trevor Ariza. So, if the team needed a three-point lineup, Anderson would be on the floor. He’s one of the better three-point shooters on the team.
His points-per-game numbers are also down from last year, as he has scored 10.2 points per game as opposed to 13.6 from 2016-17. He ranks sixth on the team in the category, but for a single team to have six players averaging double figures is incredibly impressive. With CP3 on the team and growth from Clint Capela, a dip in his scoring should have been expected.
However, some of his numbers are actually up. Before Ryno was seen as a three-point dynamo, he was viewed as a rebounding specialist (he averaged 21 and 10 his final year at Cal). He had 13 boards in last week’s win over Golden State and is the team’s second-tallest player.
He ranks fourth on the team in rebounds with 5.6 boards per game, and could come up big in a potential Golden State series. He’s averaging 9 rebounds in the three games against the Warriors, who struggle to keep him off the glass.
But the biggest reason the team needs to keep him (and is going to) is from something he brings that does not show up in the stat sheet: his spacing. Anderson is perhaps the biggest reason why the Rockets have some of the best spacing in the NBA.
As a stretch four, Anderson gets to chill at his spot at the elbow three spot, often several feet behind the arc, on either side. He often sets screens and rolls to his sweet spot and fires away. In recent games, he has struggled, but the struggles he’s had do not warrant a trade.
This is part of the evolution taking place in the NBA. Power forwards have broken the tradition of being another post presence to complement the center — think Otis Thorpe — and have now drifted out to the three point line, creating more space for guards to drive to the cup. The space that Anderson provides also allows the pick-and-roll game between Clint Capela and the point gods to take place. Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins mentioned just this in his excellent profile of Chris Paul yesterday:
After a decade spent probing crowded lanes and unfurling elbow jumpers, with great success, Paul found himself on courts that seemed to be twice as wide. Griffin and Jordan form a classic 4–5 combo, forcing opponents to pack the paint. The Rockets station snipers such as Anderson and guard Eric Gordon 35 feet from the basket and defenders follow, stalking them as far as center court. “We laugh about that all the time in film,” Anderson says. When Paul and Harden bound around the initial high screen from center Clint Capela, they are essentially playing one-on-one because nobody dares leave a shooter.
This is often why guys like Luc Mbah a Moute and Trevor Ariza, people who have been small forwards at earlier points in their career, often line up as a power forward: to provide more spacing and potential three-point power.
Anderson fits the build of a traditional power forward who can be a monster on the boards and a guy who can spot up for three. This is a large reason as to why he was signed for $20 million per year. He fits Mike D’Antoni’s system like a glove and trading him away would do more harm than good.
This is not 2K where you can use the Trade Finder to complete ridiculous trades that would never happen in the real world. This is the real world, and trading Anderson makes zero sense. First of all, few would take on a contract of his that is large in length and salary, but most of all, Anderson is a huge part of the team’s success.
The Rockets are 34-12, and that is no accident. Anderson is still a very important part of this team whether you like it or not, and he’s a large part of the success, so you should like it.