The team that’s resuming their NBA season on July 31 against the Orlando Magic doesn’t share many resemblances to the one that played 64 regular-season games before the league suspended play on March 11.
The Nets will be without the services of Kevin Durant (nothing new here), Kyrie Irving, Nicolas Claxton, Wilson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan, and, maybe, Spencer Dinwiddie. In their place lies replacement players of sorts, fliers, shots in the dark that may emerge into the light; Brooklyn now essentially acts as a home to an island of NBA misfit toys.
Justin Anderson, who reportedly garnered interest from a few contenders —per Ian Begley of SNY— is an NBA journeyman looking for a place to call home. The Nets opened their doors to the 27-year-old earlier this year—when he signed a 10-day contract with the team—but he only saw 17 minutes of garbage time action before returning to the familiarity of G League action. Then, the Long Island Nets traded for his rights and he won third team All G League honors.
But he’s a lot more than that to one Nets player. Joe Harris and Justin Anderson are not just teammates now. They’re not just former teammates ... or members of the “Starting Five” of Malcolm Brogdon’s Hoops2O initiative in East Africa. They’re best buds. “One of my closest friends,” Harris has said.
“Just a great guy to have around, great guy to have in the locker room.” said Harris in a Zoom call with Nets beat writers three days ago. Harris has now been Anderson’s teammate on two University of Virginia teams plus the Nets.
In fact, Anderson replaced Harris in the UVA starting lineup after the Nets sharpshooter left Charlottesville. (It should also be noted that he and Kevin Durant share the same high school alma mater: Montross Christian.)
“He was kind of a vet for me in college,” Anderson said back in January. “He’s helped me with the offense and whatever questions I had. We’ve only had a little bit of time together, so it’s been good just with the little bit of time catching up, and he’s just excited for me. It means a lot to be back with one of my college teammates. It helps a lot when you’re in a new locker room when you’re familiar with someone.”
Now, in a set of very different circumstances, he has a legitimate opportunity to show upside as a plug-and-play, defensive-minded wing that’s a blessing for any rotation knocking on Larry O’Brien’s door.
“Justin is an athletic, active presence on both ends of the floor,” said Harris. “He adds a lot of value obviously with his size, his length, his defensive ability. I think offensively he’s extremely talented as well. He provides another talented player that’s able to help us on both ends of the floor.”
The former first-round draft pick of the Mavs (21st overall in 2015) put up impressive stats this season in the G League culminating in the All-NBA G League honors. He split time between the Nets’ affiliate in Long Island and the Raptors 905, Toronto Raptors’ affiliate. In 31 contests this season, he averaged 20.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.7 assists on 47.9/74.2/35.4 splits.
What stands out is Anderson’s shot chart; more than half of his field-goal attempts extended beyond the perimeter (7.6 3-point attempts per game). If it’s one thing we know about these Brooklyn Nets, it’s that they like to launch the 3-ball. And though the team is no longer under the direction of Kenny Atkinson, who never saw his time finish outside of the top-5 in three-point attempts in any season of his almost-four-year tenure, it’s unlikely in this analytical age—especially for an organization that’s kind of, you know, known for their fondness of math in the basketball realm—that their volume of 3-point attempts subsides under Jacque Vaughn.
For his career in the G League, Anderson has shot 35.0 percent in his 286 3-point attempts. Though that’s just a hair behind the NBA’s league average this season (35.7 percent), if he can hover around what’s considered “average” from distance his other skill sets could compensate—and again, it’s worth noting, fliers are rarely perfect. If he’s serviceable in his minutes, that’ll be more than enough. Moreover, his shooting improved in Long Island after the Nets acquired him — as did his attempts. He shot 37.1 percent on eight attempts a game with Long Island, up from 33.6 and seven attempts with the Raptors.
And on February 11, he racked up 48 points in a game vs. the OKC Blue, hitting 8-of-10 from deep against the Thunder affiliate. It was the highest single-game point total of the year in the G League at that point. He also had a 40-point game as well back in December.
Harris thinks his pal can score in other ways beyond the arc. Anderson is well-built, at 6’6” and 235 pounds. That’s about 15 pounds more than the similarly sized Harris.
“His sort of MO from the moment he’s gotten to the NBA is just being a physical presence that is able to make a difference on the defensive end but then offensively just crashing the boards, crashing the glass, little intangible stuff, hustle type plays, he adds all of that,” added Harris.
Signed after Wilson Chandler opted out of the “bubble” in Orlando, Anderson has a chance to fill the void of Chandler’s absence. He’s a 3-and-D like Chandler if only a little shorter ... and way less experienced. Like Chandler, he’s capable of minutes at the 3 and 4. It’s not just athleticism and sheer strength that enables the Nets to throw him out against some of the more physical, talented wings of the Eastern Conference with cautious optimism. He has a wingspan of 7-feet and a max vertical of 43”.
Then, as Harris said, there’s the “intangibles.”
Jama Mahlalela, coach of the Raptors 905, agreed with Harris’ assessment of Anderon’s instincts earlier this year. On the defensive end of the floor, Mahlalela said: “He knows coverages, he knows NBA terminologies, he knows what we’re doing almost before the coaches are saying it and he’s already helping his teammates.”
Is he going to lock down the likes of Giannis Antentokounmpo or Pascal Siakim? I mean probably not. But having another capable wing to throw at them in spurts isn’t detrimental—be it in doubles on the block, traps in a halfcourt setting, or someone who’s going to put up a fight while being backed down. Actually, that in itself is something the Nets desperately need: fight. And for a player who’s scratched and crawled his way back into the big leagues, Anderson has just that.
He’s not going to fill up the box scores, but his experience (219 regular-season games, 12 playoff games, background as a leader in his time spent in the G League) can actually be seen as a blessing for this depleted Nets squad ... and for his “guy” from UVA.
And if he does enough to impress, the unrestricted free agent might net himself a new contract and a role on a contending Brooklyn squad next season.