Every NBA season there are players who outperform expectations and thus lead to interesting storylines. This article will examine two such cases: C.J. McCollum and Ryan Anderson. The former is the likely candidate to win the Most Improved Player Award whereas the latter has already one that award, however, is performing at a level better than many current all-star big men.
This new segment will attempt to teach the reader what he/she needs to know about each player and why, all of the sudden, they should care about both players.
For those of you living under a rock, McCollum is Portland’s Shooting Guard, and is quickly transitioning to a top-five player at his position in the NBA. He was effectively hidden last year, as Wesley Matthews and Aaron Afflalo ate up much of the playing time at the Shooting Guard Position. This year, however, is a different story.
Figure 1 Stats via Synergy
What the above chart represents is that C.J. McCollum is the ninth best scorer off of ball-handler pick and rolls in the NBA. This is ahead of superstars like Kevin Durant. Quite an improvement for a player who averaged 15.7 minutes per game last season.
Solely focusing on those numbers, even as impressive as they are, does McCollum a disservice. Yaron Weitzman of SB Nation recently wrote an article about how McCollum is becoming one of the best all around scorers in the NBA. One of the most interesting stats Weitzman discussed was McCollum’s doubling of his assist rate this season. Essentially, McCollum has doubled the amount of potential assists he has made this season.
This development, combined with his scoring off of ball handler pick-and-rolls as well as his 39% three-point percentage, makes McCollum a player that can beat defenses in multiple ways.
So why start caring about McCollum this week? For starters, Portland’s star Point Guard Damian Lillard is injured. Portland, without Damian Lillard, has won games against Sacramento and Cleveland by following McCollum’s leadership. In fact, in Lillard’s absence, McCollum has made the third most passes amongst guards and the eighth most potential assists (assists to an open shot) amongst guards in the NBA. Thus, now that McCollum is the primary offensive option in Portland with Lillard out, they are a team one should really watch. The development of McCollum, especially paired with Lillard, could result in the next great NBA perimeter offense.
Ryan Anderson has been in the NBA since 2008. He has had an interesting life (for an excellent read, check out this Sports Illustrated piece from last year about Anderson’s life after his girlfriend’s death) and has always been a great “stretch four” in the modern association. His improvement this season is incredible. In fact, Anderson averages more points per possession as a pick-and-roll roll man than any other NBA player this season. Let’s examine the data to see who he is better than.
Figure 2 Stats via Synergy
Consequently, Figure 2 demonstrates that Anderson is better than other big men such as Andre Drummond, Marc Gasol, Hassan Whiteside, and Chris Bosh. This is true because of Anderson’s elite talent as a three-point shooter combined with the fact that he can score with relative efficiency in the post (he is averaging .93 points per possessions on post-up opportunities, good enough for 12th in the NBA amongst players who’ve had at least eighty opportunities, per Synergy).
Ryan Anderson’s game is useful for another reason: his ability to rebound. Per NBA.com’s stats page, Ryan Anderson has the tenth best Contested Rebound Percentage in the NBA this season. Frank Ewere notes that time and time again, NBA scouts have discounted this ability due to the system Anderson was playing in. That Anderson was only gathering rebounds due to his playing positions next to Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis. Nonetheless, to a certain extent you discount Anderson’s rebounding statistics at your own peril, as they demonstrate his utility as a high-efficiency player for the contemporary NBA offense.
So why should you care about Ryan Anderson? First, this week, he has had two excellent games against Utah and Houston. But secondly, what makes the Ryan Anderson story so entertaining, is the high degree of likelihood that he will get traded this season. Anderson, for all intents and purposes, is playing on a team performing poorly, at a position the team already has filled, and as a player who could prove useful to many playoff teams.
In fact, this week alone Anderson has been involved in trade rumors to Milwaukee and Houston. Thus, Anderson is a player to watch this week for two reasons: first, he is still criminally underrated; and secondly, he may not be on the Pelicans for much longer.
Overall, the situation McCollum and Anderson find themselves in are effectively opposites. McCollum is becoming the primary player in Portland, whereas on the other hand, Anderson is playing his way out of New Orleans. Nevertheless, both are great talents and deserving of your attention in the immediate future.