The Magic have some big questions to answer when the lockout ends. Just about everyone knows the pickle they are in. And whether we want to admit it or not, Ryan Anderson is one of the key pieces to the Magic's future.
Anderson might be the most attractive trade piece the Magic have outside of Dwight Howard. He is young, efficient and is still on his rookie contract. Any move for improvement the Magic might be able to make might center on and cost Anderson.
His numbers compare very favorably with many players in the NBA and stats guys like John Hollinger absolutely love this player. You may have seen Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus compare Anderson's numbers to a younger Dirk Nowitzki. And you may have seen Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel name Anderson the 10th most underrated player in the NBA.
Anderson clearly has value and clearly is an important player for the Magic. He turned himself into the team's sixth man and made Rashard Lewis expendable by the time he was traded. Anderson averaged 10.6 points per game and shot 39.3 percent on 3-pointers. He posted a career-best 19.0 PER and 10.8 percent offensive rebounding percentage.
Anderson's shooting has long been something stat-heads drool over. They found him a low-usage, high-efficiency guy that does all the things numbers say you should do. That is what has made him so valuable to Orlando -- and, really, what made the Vince Carter deal so good from the summer of 2009.
Pelton makes kind of a funny argument in beginning to compare Anderson to a young Nowitzki. The two players are completely different. Anderson is an underrated post player and offensive rebounder, but he typically is not asked to do either. Nowitzki was a straight shooter in his younger days in Dallas, but he can do a lot of other stuff and has obviously developed into a much different player.
Nowitzki is a superstar player. Anderson likely will not reach that level.
Part of the comparison though seems somewhat apt.
Anderson and Nowitzki share the distinction of being one of 14 players among the top 100 players 3-point shooters in terms of accuracy in NBA history that are taller than 6-foot-10. Anderson's numbers from his first three years compare very similarly to Nowtizki's numbers in his first two years. Anderson and Nowitzki shot similar true shooting percentages -- 56.4 percent for Dirk, 57.4 percent for Anderson. And Anderson even had greater rebounding rates and usage rates than the young Nowitzki.
Obviously, though, Dirk has become a superstar. But the question Otis Smith and the Magic might have to ask themselves is whether Anderson has this kind of player inside of him. Can he develop the ability to create his own shot like Dirk did? It is obviously a difficult question to ask and project.
"What the comparison does suggest, however, is that Anderson could thrive with a larger role," Pelton writes. "If he kept up the same level of performance over 35 minutes a night, Anderson could be expected to average 16.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. That's without even considering the improvement Anderson can be expected to make as he edges into his mid-20s. To merit big minutes, Anderson will have to improve defensively -- as Nowitzki has. But the underlying skills are there for Anderson to make an impact."
This is a pretty intriguing statement. Does Anderson have that 17-9 player inside him. Is he a future double-double player? Or is he going only to slightly improve from his current role?
The Magic recognized that Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson were good enough to make up for the loss of the diminished Rashard Lewis in December. Unlike Bass, Anderson has the same ability to stretch the floor as Lewis did and helped separate the Magic from a lot of teams. Anderson is an underrated (and frankly underused) post player and rebounder.
Nowitzki he is not. But Pelton's point does make you think whether Anderson could be better. Undoubtedly, Anderson is going to improve -- he is just 23 years old after all. And surely he will improve from his Playoff averages -- 3.4 points per game and 3.9 rebounds per game on 37.3 percent effective field goal percentage -- as he gets more experience.
And that will be key: to get him more playing time, as Pelton suggests. He can possibly do more with more time. Anderson is a per 36 minute darling. But his Playoff number suggest he cannot be the kind of difference that the Magic need from their stretch-4. Certainly not to a Nowitzki level.
Pelton's comparison to Nowitzki is ultimately far-fetched. That is not his ceiling. Nowhere close.
But as the Magic move forward and try to plan their future, they have to consider just how good they believe Anderson could be. Is Anderson part of the long-term plan (not that Orlando is thinking too much long-term with the roster the team currently has)? Is Anderson going to improve or is this as good as he will get? Is now the time to sell and what kind of player would you take for Anderson?
Ryan Anderson has a lot of value. Probably the most on the team because of his shooting ability, age and contract -- he is due only $2.24 million next year before becoming a restricted free agent. And being a young, likely underpaid player, that has a lot of value for a cash-strapped Magic team.
Determining his ceiling will be critical for the Magic to determine what value Anderson has for that qualifying offer and any potential trade that might come across Otis Smith's desk.Photos via DayLife.com.