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Life in Slow Mo: Spurs Rookie Kyle Anderson Makes His Way in the NBA

Anderson’s game makes him a perfect fit in San Antonio, but a terrible play in ‘NBA 2K’

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Kyle Anderson attempts to pass the ball around Houston Rockets center Clint Capela in Houston on Thursday, Nov. 6th, 2014.

Patric Schneider/AP

Kyle Anderson had to wait three games to make his NBA debut this season, and when he finally did, it wasn’t exactly under auspicious circumstances. For years, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has made it his quixotic mission to rail against the NBA and its TV partner Turner Sports by resting his marquee stars when he finds the scheduling of national TV games onerous.

So when the Spurs arrived in Houston for the second game of a back-to-back (abbreviated as SEGABABA – there’s your handy basketball shorthand lesson for the day) to be broadcast on TNT last Thursday, there was no Tim Duncan, no Manu Ginobili. The Rockets slaughtered the Spurs 98-81, but it was in this game, which Popovich was more or less throwing, that Anderson got his first taste of NBA action.

Even though he went 1-for-8 in his 31 minutes on the floor, he racked up 8 rebounds and 4 assists, flashing the diverse skillset that had many favorably comparing his game to Boris Diaw’s prior to the draft.

But Anderson knows he’s going to have to be patient as the lone new face on a team that’s returning its championship roster completely intact.

“Being the new guy,” he says, “I feel like a freshman in high school or a freshman in college again.”

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich talks with forward Kyle Anderson.

That .125 field goal percentage in his first game seems indicative of that – he took open (but not necessarily great) shots and seemed to have a little of those rookie jitters – but the other elements of his all-around game showed promise. He worked hard enough on defense when isolated against James Harden on the perimeter to bother him into a miss and grab the rebound. In the fourth he functioned as the primary ball handler on the floor, and it’s his first NBA assist that is perhaps most indicative of his upside.

Getting out ahead of the break, he gets the ball from Danny Green and cuts to the bucket, but finds resistance and sees Austin Daye trailing, dumping it off to him for an easy layup. He has, in short, the kind of well-balanced, all-around game that might fade in the bright lights, but is a key ingredient to a successful team like the Spurs. The fit looked so perfect that it almost seemed like fate that Anderson was available when San Antonio picked 30th. 

“It’s just how it happened,” he says. “I was really excited to get drafted here; I just felt with the style of game I play, of being a very unselfish player, it was a good fit for me to be playing in San Antonio.”

It speaks to the degree to which fit matters in the NBA that Anderson was perceived as a steal for the Spurs at the end of the first round, when it might not have been quite the same had he gone to the Los Angeles Clippers at 28 or the Oklahoma City Thunder at 29. With Diaw as a mentor (“I’ve gotten to know him really well,” Anderson says, “but I kind of watch a little of everybody, not just Boris,”) and with the understanding that he’s got time, Anderson appears ideally placed in the NBA. As a player whose nickname (and Twitter handle) is Slow Mo, Anderson understands it’s going to be a long road to becoming an important part of a team like the Spurs.

Even in video games, apparently. Anderson’s former UCLA teammate Zach LaVine is an avid gamer and couldn’t wait to get his hands on NBA 2K15 so he could play as himself, and see what his overall rating was. “If I don’t like it,” he told me, “I’m gonna raise it to 99.” As it turns out, LaVine’s combination of speed and dunking ability is tailor-made for video games.

Anderson’s balanced blend of passing, playmaking and rebounding? Not so much. I noticed he had recently tweeted that 2K had gotten “much better after the updates,” so I asked him: Is it kind of a trip to get to play as yourself?

“Yeah, it’s cool,” he laughs. “But I’m trying to win so I don’t really put myself in.”

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