I’ve always fallen for an athletic, defensive-minded wing that’s projected to go late in the first round. While prospects like Jamaal Franklin (2013) and KJ McDaniels (2014) have had mixed success on the NBA level, it hasn’t quite deterred my fascination with those kind of players. That pattern has continued for the current draft, as we’re about to see with Virginia wing Justin Anderson.
Since arriving to the Tony Bennett-lead Virginia squad, Anderson has been the anchor of one of the finest defensive squads in the country. Standing at 6’6 with a tremendous 6’11 wingspan, Anderson was able to use his long frame to defend against multiple positions. Defending against wings, Anderson showcases a high-pressure mentality as he sticks to the offensive player like velcro. Anderson showcases an innate ability to work around off-ball screens and still be able to be in the face of the opponent. That combination of athleticism and that long wingspan to prevent the opposing guard from easily cutting their way to the paint.
His base stats aren’t too impressive, as he averaged .7 steals and .5 blocks per 40 minutes. Again, those pedestrian numbers are based a lot on Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense. That defense is based forcing the opposition to remain on the perimeter, as there will always be at least two defenders (designated defender and a help defender) that will be in their way if they try to cut. Because of Anderson’s athleticism and wingspan, he was perfect in that defense, as used his length to contest perimeter shooters and athleticism to work as a help defender.
All of those factors contributed to Anderson being an impressive defensive force, when you look at the advanced Synergy analytics. Per Synergy, Anderson held opponents to .652 PPP (92% percentile). As well, opponents averaged .63 PPP (92% percentile) on spot-ups and .59 PPP (77% percentile) on the pick-and-roll when they work against Justin Anderson.
While that performance made him into one of the best wing defenders in this year’s draft, he might not have even been picked in this year’s draft if he didn’t improve as a perimeter shooter. During his initial two seasons with Virginia, Anderson shot around 30% from beyond the arc on four attempts per 40 minutes. The main reason behind that inconsistency rested behind his shooting mechanics.
Before this season, Anderson’s jumper seemed to be a little too powerful. He started a lot of those jumpers by dipping down low and then moving into a motion that finished with a long release. Those factors led to a lot of shots that clanked off the back of the rim on jumpers from the top of the key, or simply passed the rim when he was shooting from the corner.
Between his sophomore and junior season, Anderson did a lot to make that jumper quicker and more compact. Although there’s still a dip to his shot, it’s not as severe which leads to quicker releases. As well, Anderson has done a great job of having his body be balanced and face the rim.
Those subtle improvements allowed Anderson to be one of the most consistent shooters in the nation. On 5.7 attempts per 40 minutes, Anderson shot 45% from beyond the arc. That shooting percentage puts Anderson as the most efficient perimeter shooter in this year’s draft.
Aside from his work as a perimeter shooter, Anderson used his explosiveness and athleticism to be a solid on and off-ball cutter. Although he isn’t the best ball-handler, Anderson can use that explosiveness to cut to the rim on straight drives. That skill is most evident on attacking close outs, as opponents are far more worried about his perimeter jumper. Anderson is scariest as an off-ball cutter, as it’s really rough for opponents to stop him once he gets a head of steam.
While there are still some elements of Anderson’s game that still need to improve (i.e refining his handle and just having a better feel for the game), Anderson still stands as a player that could immediately fit in as a role player. His work as a 3-and-D player is a skill-set that every single team is looking for, especially the Utah Jazz.
If the Jazz decide to grab a late 1st round pick to grab Anderson, he could fit into that reserve wing role where Snyder would either slot him behind Hayward or the SG duo of Hood and Alec Burks. Alongside that defensive versatility, Anderson’s ability to stretch the floor would help a team that finished 19th in 3PT% during the 2014-15 season.