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The Underestimation of Ryan Anderson

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Please don’t underestimate Ryan Anderson. No, actually, go ahead...really, he likes it.

"I do relish the underdog role," he told HoopsAddict before the NBA Draft. "Since I have not received the overwhelming attention other players garner, I attract doubters. I love performing in front of those who doubt my skills and don’t believe in me. I use the doubters as motivation to not only prove them wrong, but as extra fuel for on-court focus."

Oh yeah, he’s smart. He did go to Berkeley after all, and utilizes those off-court smarts between the lines.

"For some reason, my athleticism is a question, despite my proven performances against athletic players," he said in that same interview. "I typically allow the doubters to question my athleticism since I feed off positioning and timing. Positioning and timing is what gives me huge advantages especially with rebounding since I enjoy crashing the glass. Since I first started playing basketball, I always felt I had a keen sense of what angle a missed shot would best allow me to gather a rebound and more times than not I’ve been correct. I have always had a natural feel for when to jump and when not to, which has made me a solid rebounder.

"Yet I do understand the athletic question and realize teams want to see someone windmill dunk at 360 degrees," he added a bit sarcastically. "For me… I play the timing game. I can easily bang home a dunk in traffic yet my game is predicated on feel, timing and positioning. Two points is two points."

And if you think you detect just he slightest bit of arrogance beneath that smiling, joking demeanor you might have seen at the Nets post-draft press conference, try this, from an interview with a Sacramento television station reporter who asked he models himself after. No hesitation.

"I love Dirk. He’s definitely a player I model myself after. He’s a really talented player inside and outside. And you know I’ve always been kind of an inside-outside player. .. working on moves to the basket. Trying to get an advantage. Not so much to be a shooting--a small--forward but kind of taking advantage of players if I can."

He even jokes his sparse goatee is an homage to Nowitzki.

So now we know he is mentally tough, intelligent, and just a bit arrogant. Can he play?

Former NBA coaches who faced up against him in the PAC-10 think so.

"I was in the NBA for seven years, and he (Anderson) is going to be in the NBA. He's very good, very versatile." said Arizona interim head coach Kevin O’Neill who was twice Lawrence Frank's boss.

"He is just a special player. He's the most versatile big guy in our conference, absolutely the most skilled. He's also tenacious, and that's a rare combination." added USC head coach Tim Floyd.

Kiki Vandeweghe thinks so too. "He can shoot, he can rebound. He had a lot of double doubles this year at Cal, one of the best players in the PAC-10 this year. He’s going to surprise some people. He’s a little more athletic than people think…and again, he’s a character guy and I think he’s going to be a very effective front court player for us for a long time…and he addressed a big time need for us in outside shooting up front.

Then, he added, "You know it’s very interesting…he was our scout’s favorite pick."

Gregg Polinsky, the Nets chief scout, had indeed raved about him and got the Nets brass to drive to Philadelphia to watch him work out for the 76ers after scheduling conflicts prohibited a trip to East Rutherford. Some of the brass had also watched him in a Wizards’ workout. It was a surprise. Anderson had thought he was going at #19 to Cleveland.

"I was honestly surprised that New Jersey had selected me because they had never really talked to me although they did come and watch me when I worked out in Philadelphia," he said.

Vandeweghe says the Nets had a choice that night.

"There were about four players who we were looking for," said the Nets GM after the draft. "They were all there! That was a little bit surprising. We were very pleased he was there and very pleased all of them were there. We went with the biggest player, we went with the biggest player we thought was the most effective for our team.

"Everybody had someone else they liked but the consensus was we had three small players and Ryan Anderson was the big player and so if the players are pretty much equal, the old adage in the NBA is ‘go big’".

Who were the other three? The Nets have said Courtney Lee, who the Magic took, was the other top candidate. And some have suggested Chris Douglas-Roberts was also on the list.

Whoever, whatever. Anderson was happy to go to New Jersey, acting like the kid that he is.

"It was unbelievable. I started going insane," Anderson recounted to his local paper. As the draft rolled on, Anderson admits he had curled into the fetal position. "All of a sudden David Stern says my name on TV and it was like this huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. It was great. Then I just jumped up, ran out to our front lawn and yelled from the top of my lungs. For a while there I was pretty much out of control."

Anderson didn’t mind that his name had not been mentioned at all by the ESPN reporting team prior to the Nets pick…but he was aware of it.

"I always have to come in and prove myself so I'm kind of used to it," Anderson told his local paper. "People usually don't find out what kind of player I am until I step onto the floor.

He knows what he has to do to improve.

"I’m not used to powering every move home, yet I know it’s a skill I need to be successful in the NBA," he has said.

"Everyday I’m getting up plenty of shots while familiarizing my grip to the NBA official ball. Since I operate off the senses, my shot is feeling much better and I’m utilizing my improved footwork for hesitation stop and go moves as well as my height to shoot over the top of a defenders."

College scouts have said that’s going to be a challenge.

As one, quoted by Scout.com, said, "He was bothered by taller and stronger defenders who forced him to alter his release point and bodied him whenever he put the ball on the floor. This was most apparent when facing Stanford and the Lopez twins as well as UCLA with Kevin Love along with several athletic forwards. Anderson does not elevate very well which causes him to pull back on his shots in order to prevent blocks, which leads to fewer fouls and lower productivity against better defenders."

Another remarked that his three point shooting is excellent, with a high release point and an increasingly quick release then adding "when Anderson catches the ball in post, he is a little less reliable. He has good footwork, a soft touch, and good intelligence on the offensive end, but he too often finds himself trapped under the basket or turns into a double or triple team. While he is a very good passer out of the paint and has shown very nice awareness in the high post and on the perimeter, he frequently finds himself out of position on the low blocks."

Not all the scouts and pundits are as negative. Brian McCormick, a trainer and writer said this of him prior to the Nets’ pick: "If Anderson was from Serbia, he would be a lottery pick for sure. He is everything NBA executives crave: a 6'10 power forward with some back to the basket game, mobility and three-point range.

"Sure, he needs to add some strength, but potential lottery picks Brook Lopez, Donte Greene, Anthony Randolph and DeAndre Jordan need strength as well. However, they possess ‘upside’ and ‘length’ while all Anderson possesses is offensive fundamentals and demonstrated ability in the NCAA's best conference."

And while some of those players may have given him trouble, he did against them, as this highlight reel shows. They—along with Michael Beasley—didn’t exactly shut him down.

The Nets are not sure how they’ll use him apparently, which is either a testament to his versatility or uncertainty about how to best utilize his skills. He played more of the 4 in the Orlando Summer League and the 3 in the Rocky Mountain Revue. He did much better in the former.

"They see me as a 3 (small forward) or 4 (a big forward) and I already know my role as a pick and pop (shoot from the outside after setting a screen) player who also will be able to drive inside when a bigger, slower guy is on me," he told his local paper in August.

No doubt, he is going to take some time to develop. After all, he will be the youngest Net to step on to an NBA court since 1979 and second youngest ever.

But he’s been there before, even in high school, where he was pudgy but the three-time conference scoring champion. He was barely recruited. Cal’s then coach Ben Braun was one of the few Division-I schools to make him an offer.

He was ranked as only the country's No. 34 power forward among incoming freshmen. Two years later, he was the only Pac-10 player to finish among the top five in both scoring and rebounding in both seasons at Berkeley.

One of his Cal teammates was Nets' training camp alumnus Rod Benson, who used Anderson in a couple of his Yahoo! Sports video blogs and is a big fan: "Ryan is a lot more prepared than many first-round picks entering the draft. Ryan will be able to come in and contribute immediately. I know that a team that passes up on Anderson will regret it later because his game is all about instant positive contribution. Ryan will be effective inside and outside as well as rebound efficiently."

It won’t be easy. He does have a support group led by Brook Lopez, once a rival now a friend and supporter, telling the New York media that Anderson had "the best jump shot in the PAC-10". Anderson in return has become a surrogate twin for Lopez, helping him replace his brother, Robin.

He remains wowed by his circumstances.

"It's going to be a thrill playing on the same team as a great player like Vince Carter. I'll never forget when he won the slam dunk in the 2000 All-Star game in Oakland. He's an amazing player and has always been one of my favorites," Ryan said. (Memo to VC: your new teammate was 12 at the time.)

"I'm definitely excited for the season to start. It felt so good to put on that uniform."

As for the future, here’s what he told the local reporter. "It's like a dream come true - but this is only the beginning. All I can do is just go out and work hard, play basketball as well as I possibly can, and hopefully in the future, I'll be able to impress the people of New Jersey."

Two "people" he's already impressed in New Jersey are his point guards, Devin Harris and Keyon Dooling.

When Dave D'Alessandro of the Star-Ledger asked them which of the team's many youngsters they liked, both put Anderson at the top of the list.

"His skill level is higher than what people think, he can really shoot the ball," said Harris. "And I think that will open up a lot of things. . . .Our job to kind of push him along. Every young guy needs a little push, and we'll probably push him the hardest."

Dooling also didn't hesitate: "I've got two," he said. "First guy, most people don't know much about Ryan, but he has a really, really nice game. He can shoot the basketball, he's deceptively strong, and he's really crafty around the basket.

Being described as "crafty" by a veteran like Dooling will probably impress Anderson. It sounds so much more unique than "athletic".