Kyle Anderson deep dive: evaluating his performance for Memphis this season and how he stacks up to comparable players in the league

In a league where shooting is king, the defensive-minded player is often forgotten — Memphis Grizzly Kyle Anderson may be a player existing in an era that is not suitable for his style of play. Let’s take a look behind the curtain and try and determine if the Kyle Anderson signing of several summers ago was a positive move or a detriment to the organization.

A little background

The Grizzlies signed Kyle Anderson away from San Antonio in restricted free agency during the summer of 2018. Prior to coming to Memphis, Anderson started in 100 games in four years for the Spurs. The former UCLA Bruin is a multi-positional defender who uses his height and length to make up for his lack of speed. Anderson has never been much of a shooter, especially from three point range. He has averaged less than one attempt per game from deep over the course of his career. Kyle has earned his money mostly on the defensive side of the ball, where he led the league in Defensive BPM in 2017-18, according to basketball-reference. 

What the Grizzlies were expecting to get in Anderson was a Tayshaun Prince type player who makes his teammates better while also taking tough defensive assignments in crucial situations. Let’s break things down and see if they got what they bargained for.

Where does he rank among his peers in the league?

As I normally do for these types of analysis, I attempted to narrow the field and find players in a similar bucket of impact as the subject of study. For this exercise, I looked at all the players who logged minutes at either forward spot and bracketed those guys who played 33% over and under Kyle Anderson’s 1,333 minutes of run — between 933 and 1,732 minutes.

Forty seven players fell into the qualifying criteria. Here is where Anderson ranked among those 47 players in various important categories. 

  • 38th in points per game with 5.8
  • 23rd in rebounds per game with 4.3
  • 32nd in eFG% with 54%
  • 43rd in 3PA with 1.3 and 42nd in 3P% at 28%
  • 25th in ORtg with 109 and 31st in DRtg with 109 
  • 45th in USG% with 13.5%, 
  • 15th in STL% with 2.4
  •  6th in TOV% with 13.5%
  • 11th in DWS at 1.7

What does this data tell us? 

Well, essentially it confirms that our eyes were not deceiving us. Anderson logged a lot of minutes for Memphis this year, with not much to show for it – at least on offense. The defensive side takes a little more deciphering to judge his production value.  I’ll go into more detail on his impact on both sides of the ball in the upcoming sections. However, to give you an idea of his offensive impact, some of the players in his category with similar usage rates include Trey Lyles, Torrey Craig, Grant Williams, and Solomon Hill. On defense, some of the advanced metrics favor Anderson and speak to his ability to use his basketball IQ in place of raw athletic ability. For example, in his “forwards with similar minutes category”, Anderson ranks second in defensive Box Plus-Minus to only Jonathan Isaac of Orlando. This would show that the Grizzlies get good per-minute value from Anderson on the defensive side of the ball, but in some games he becomes unplayable simply due to the pace. Giving Anderson minutes has proved a double-edge sword for coach Taylor Jenkins.

Is Kyle a viable option on offense?

I guess the answer to this question all depends on your expectations. In this day and age of NBA hoops, most teams expect a significant amount of their offensive production to come from wings or multi-positional guys. Anderson is a tweener. He’s not tall enough to be a rim protector and spend significant time near the hoop on defense. But he also is just not a good outside shooter. This causes him to end up having to take most of his shots near the goal, where the Grizzlies often already have their starting center positioned.

According to Cleaning the Glass, Anderson sports a usage rate of 14.6%, which puts him in the lower half of all forwards. Memphis is not running any of their offense through him and is rarely looking for him to create a shot for himself. This is especially true from three, where he did not make a single unassisted shot this season. 

Occasionally he can surprise everyone with a crafty eurostep, but he only averages a few buckets per game, proving that this is a far from frequent occurrence. He also only earns 105.2 points per 100 shots, which was in the 38th percentile of forwards at the time of my research.

As far as overall shooting, Anderson earned an eFG% of 50.6%, which is the 40th percentile for forwards according to CTG. There seems to be a consistent trend where he ranks in many offensive metrics. Clearly, there is a lot left to be desired on the offensive end. Anderson shot above average from two point range at 53.6%, but was in the 11th percentile of forwards from three (yikes!). 

Another problem with playing Anderson alongside the primary Memphis players is that 44% percent of his two-point shots are not at the rim and are considered mid-range. When he does shoot these shots he is solid on them. Anderson is one of the better mid-range shooting forwards in the league, hitting at a clip of 47%, which is good for 89th percentile. The problem there is that these types of shots kill the spacing that Memphis is trying to create.

It’s not like Kyle is a DeMar DeRozan type player who is taking mid-range shots at a high volume and is able to get a bucket whenever his team needs it. During clutch time, Anderson was virtually non-existent — and I don’t even feel like I need to cite the stats on that statement. He hangs out in that lost area of the court for most of the game but has only a few points to show for it at the end of the day.

To wrap it up on offense, let’s touch briefly on his passing, where he is actually quite clever. Anderson’s assist to usage rate was 1.11, which was upper tier among forwards. However, he also turned the ball over a lot at a rate of 14%. There really is nothing to get excited about on the offense end with Kyle Anderson. He serves as a veteran on this young roster and putting him with the second unit as an additional ball handler alongside Tyus Jones would be the best bet for him. Most of the guys coming off the bench can stretch the floor well, which could allow him to get closer to the rim for his shots instead of settling for mid-range jumpers. 

How does he fare on the defensive end of the court?

As a team, the Grizzlies fell right in the middle of the league this season, allowing 110 points per 100 possessions. This isn’t too bad for a team sporting the youth of the Grizzlies. Statistically, Anderson was one of the better defensive players for Memphis this season and played a large role in stabilizing this young group. In his physical form, Anderson is tall and has long arms. These attributes allowed Taylor Jenkins to utilize him in a variety of matchups and against a variety of positions. These physical traits help offset his lack of speed and quickness by allowing him to recover quickly and muck up passing lanes. 

Anderson was third on the Grizzlies this season in defensive RAPTOR with +2.1. He ranked only behind guard De’Anthony Melton and center Jonas Valanciunas. In this same statistic, Anderson ranked 51st in the entire league and 16th among small forwards. The majority of the players ahead of him are considered elite defensive players like Matisse Thybulle, Kawhi Leonard, and Jayson Tatum. For reference, LeBron earned a +1.3 in defensive RAPTOR during the regular season and was the 21st best in this category. 

The Grizzlies wing was 11th in the entire NBA in Defensive Box Plus Minus with +2.0. Anderson made the most of his time on the defensive end of the floor. No one can take that away from him. Jenkins used Anderson to try and stifle everyone from Anthony Davis to James Harden, and plenty in between. Even with tough matchup assignments, Anderson earned a DRTG of 109, fourth on the Grizzlies among players with a thousand minutes. Those with better numbers are limited to De’Anthony Melton, Dillon Brooks, and Jonas Valanciunas.

Does he make his teammates better?

This season for Memphis, Anderson started in 28 games out of the 67 that he played in. He missed the majority of last season due to a shoulder injury that still plagued him this season at times. Though he averaged a shade under 20 minutes per game, Anderson was fifth on the Grizzlies in total minutes for the season. He tied with Grizzlies’ point guard Ja Morant in games played, so the sheer volume of appearances helped his total minutes. This gives us a strong sample size when examining his on-court impact. 

Though he was top five in minutes played, he was only ninth in points scored for Memphis. This is to be expected, as Anderson is a 5 point per game scorer in his career. If Chris Wallace sought out Kyle Anderson for his scoring ability, that would be terribly misguided of him — not that I’m ruling that out. 

With Kyle on the court, Memphis had a net rating of minus -2.9, contrasting with a net rating of plus -.69 with him off the court. The team OffRtg was 6.89 points worse per 100 possessions with him on the court and their DefRtg was 3.28 points worse as well. 

He played the most significant minutes with two particular lineups. The first one included Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Ja Morant, and Jonas Valanciunas. This group played 152 minutes together and was negative -11.7 points per 100 possessions. That number right there is why Anderson did not start the majority of games this season. He failed to mesh with the starters and provide significant value to that group.

With a lineup of Brooks, DeAnthony Melton, Morant, and Valanciunas, they rated out at plus -8.6 points per 100 possessions. In this lineup, Anderson guarded more post players or stretch big men compared to wing players who were too quick for him.

With Anderson in the game, every single player he logged over 100 minutes alongside took slightly less shots at the rim due to the lack of spacing that Kyle provided. This hindered the Grizzlies’ offensive style and their overall shot quality took a dip. Also, Ja Morant – who is known for his creative passing and explosive athleticism – was a much less effective passer with Anderson in the game because defenses knew they could leave him open without much threat of him hitting an open three. Morant’s assists per 100 possessions took a nosedive when playing with Anderson as he averaged 3.11 assists less when sharing the floor with him.

Wrapping it up

Is Kyle Anderson worth the contract that he is on and does he fit within the current construction of this Grizzlies roster? I’m pretty sure when Memphis made the decision to sign Anderson away from San Antonio, they were hoping to get a Tayshaun Prince or Shane Battier type player who impacts the game beyond the box score. Someone who doesn’t get you many points, but does all the little things right and helps guide the team to victory. 

Right now, Anderson will make $9.5mm next season and $9.9mm in the final year of his contract following that. That makes him the 5th highest paid player on the active roster. For someone who started less than half of the games this season and played less than 20 minutes a contest, that is tough to justify. Though Anderson is solid on one side of the court, he is such an extreme liability on offense that it makes it very hard to find minutes for him. On another note, the Grizzlies have a big decision to make this offseason on whether or not they want to try and bring back De’Anthony Melton on a new contract. Melton and Anderson are both defensive-minded players, but Melton has the clear advantage when it comes to offensive upside — even though he did not show this in the bubble. 

Now that the Grizzlies have new leadership and a new direction under Zach Kleiman, Ja Morant, and co., it seems the smart choice is for Kyle Anderson’s role to shrink as long as he is in Beale Street Blue.

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