The Mavs had a lot of needs heading into last summer’s offseason, with one of the most dire being on the wing. Dallas was searching for an athletic/defensively-gifted wingman to help solidify its perimeter D, which was a major weak point during the previous season.
At 6-6 and 228 pounds with a seven-foot wingspan, Anderson fit those needs for the Mavs on-paper, as they selected him with the 21st overall pick in the draft.
And now, on-paper is clearly translating to on-the-court.
“I think the best thing for me is to kind of be mature about this process and figure out what this team needs me to do this year, and go out there and try to practice it and try to put some of these things into play,'' Anderson recently told Mavs.com. "With that being said, also having a high level of aggressiveness. But at the same time, just doing it the right way. Just playing the game the right way is what I’m focused on.”
"Being mature'' doesn't just happen. It took a while for Anderson to figure things out during his first NBA season, as he struggled with the speed and above-the-shoulders aspects of the game for a good majority of the year -- normal challenges for any rookie. However, when Chandler Parsons was lost to yet another knee injury last year, Anderson’s trial by fire began, and he emerged on the other end with top marks.
Beginning on March 25th against Golden State and through the end of the playoffs, Anderson averaged 8.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in 23 minutes per game, and Anderson was a difference-maker in each and every one of those minutes. If not for Anderson’s emergence, the Mavs more than likely don’t win seven of their last nine and make the playoffs. Anderson’s fiery and physical play helped define the Mavs identity down the stretch of the regular season as a defensive-minded team, one that allow just 89.8 points per game over its last nine games -- a vast improvement from earlier in the season.
It's fascinating, really: Dallas' path to the playoffs last year was triggered in part by coach Rick Carlisle's brilliant decision to slow down the game, to make 'em grind-out affairs, thus lessening the chances for miscues by Justin while playing to his strengths. Then the playoffs came, and Justin appeared in all five of the Mavericks’ outings against the Oklahoma City Thunder and averaged 19 minutes and 9.4 points. (And one elbow pile-driver.)
And now, with a new season upon us, the entire roster is taking on an Anderson-like form, as primo newcomers Bogut and Barnes has defensive aptitude to go with the starting backcourt of Matthews and D-Will ...
And then, maybe as the sixth man, comes Justin Anderson.
Said coach Rick Carlisle: "He was one of the big reasons we got to the playoffs, so I like what he’s doing this summer. He’s a hard worker, he loves to play, he loves to be a part of a team, and so he’s another important guy as we look towards the future.”
Anderson entered the offseason as a vital part of the Mavs' future plans, and is perhaps the only legitimate young building block that the Mavs possess on their roster -- and if you watched Summer League, you saw how so much of it was all about him. "Simba'' is only 22 and is signed through the 2019-20 season with a team option after the 2016-17 season, and an average base salary of $1.48 million on his rookie deal. He needs to work on consistency as a perimeter shooter, but the skeleton of being able to do that seems built. Anderson also might have the potential to be an offensive creator, something this roster lacks. (It's the same exact area where Barnes needs growth; maybe they can be workout buddies in this area.) The defensive game is already in place, as is the personality -- the "disposition,'' as Rick likes to call it.
“I think simplicity is key,” Anderson told his hometown paper in Richmond. “Coach Carlisle got me to believe in simplicity and I just tried to keep it as simple as I could. It really helped me for the rest of (last) year.”
If things go the way the Mavs hope, Anderson will become the sixth man on this roster and become an effective both-ends-of-the-floor player. If he can continue his play from the tail end of last season, the Mavs have a player. If he can use last year as a springboard to something better, the Mavs have a prize.