January 8, 2013 by upandatom786
When Alan Anderson was injured early in the season, most Raptors observers didn’t think the loss was crippling. Anderson was a journeyman veteran coming off stints internationally and in the D-League, and was thought to be a marginal player. And while it’s true that Toronto’s hellish start wasn’t entirely due to AA’s injury – just like it wasn’t all Bargnani’s fault – Toronto’s downright good play hasn’t coincided with Anderson’s return completely by accident. While it may be difficult for non-Raptors fans to look at AA’s statistics and not blanch, he really has been a useful wing player.
His greatest impact has come on the offensive end. Although his FG% is nothing pretty, he shows a great understanding of efficient shot distributions. According to NBA.com, 75.6% of his shots come from either the restricted area or behind the arc. Those are widely recognized as the most efficient shots on the floor. According to Hoopdata, his FTA:FGA ratio is about the same as players like Andre Iguodala and Luol Deng, quite a feat for a player who takes most of his shots from 3 point land. His Turnover Rate of 7.77 is also extremely low (interestingly, Toronto’s three best wings [Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan, and AA] all have better-than-average Turnover Rates). AA’s Synergy numbers show an efficient player as well. His .99 PPP ranks him as the 62nd most efficient qualifying player and most of his value comes on isolation plays (where he ranks 13th) spot up plays (88th) and transition (unranked, but his 1.24 PPP is near Kobe’s 71st ranked 1.29). I watched his isolation plays, and he doesn’t exactly seem like a special player. He’s not exceptionally quick, but he’s quick enough to get a step on lumbering defenders. He’s beefy but not exceptionally big and strong. Above all he’s a crafty scorer who knows how to leverage position well and possesses a preternatural ability to force defenders to foul him. In spot up and transition opportunities, his value lies almost solely in his shot selection. Put simply, he doesn’t take midrange jumpers off the catch. 69 of the 90 transition and spot up attempts he’s taken so far this year have come from three. With that volume, even converting a tad under 35% leaves him with an above average efficiency.
Looking at these individual stats, it’s no surprise that Anderson improves the team offense when he’s on the court. What is surprising is how much he does so. Per NBA.com, Toronto’s Offensive Rating improves by 8.8 points when AA takes the court. The reasons for this improvement? Better shot selection and fewer turnovers. With Anderson on the bench, the Raptors take a whopping 46.6% of their shots from areas that aren’t at the rim or behind the arc. When Anderson checks in, that number drops to 36.6%. The percentage of Toronto’s points that come from FTs also increases when Anderson plays. Toronto’s Turnover % with Anderson on the bench is 14.3, which is still good enough for top 5 in the league, but with Anderson on the floor, that percentage drops to a ludicrous 10.8, good enough for best in the league.
On defense, Anderson doesn’t have nearly the same effect, which is understandable considering how few wings can really impact a team’s defense. That’s not to say Toronto’s 4.8 point improvement in Defensive Rating with Anderson on the court is miniscule. In fact, Toronto’s defense with Anderson on the floor approaches a top ten level. It’s just that on a team that lacks any real wing stopper, Anderson is the most competent wing defender. His Synergy stats back that up, and other than his .76 PPP overall mark, good for 42nd among qualifying players, nothing is really eye popping. Watching the tape, Anderson isn’t really a flashy defender either. He simply knows where to be, is always giving maximum effort, and always contests shots. Simple effort goes a long way on the defensive end.
What we’re left with is a player most coaches would be glad to have. On offense, he knows his limitations and understands how best to utilize an underrated shooting stroke with stellar shot distribution, and on defense, he’s a smart and willing team defender. Some of his on/off court numbers are skewed by getting to play against bench players, sure, but they’re drastic enough that they can’t be ignored. Toronto is outscored by 5.4 points per 100 possessions with Anderson on the bench, but when he plays, they outscore teams by 8.3 points per 100 possessions. At some point, you gotta trust the numbers, and they paint Alan Anderson as a valuable player.