Largely overlooked in preseason Big 12 player of the year discussions going into the season, James Anderson
has managed to emerge as the runaway favorite for the award, despite playing in the same conference as a number of top NBA prospects. That should begin to tell you the type of junior season Anderson is having, and subsequently helps explain his steady rise up NBA draft boards.
Not the most fluid or dynamic athlete youll find at the collegiate level, Anderson nevertheless manages to produce in an incredibly prolific and efficient way. Out of the 35 players sporting the highest usage rates (the percentage of their teams overall possessions they garner) in college basketball, Anderson ranks as the most efficient player around, which is a testament to how important he is to Oklahoma States NCAA tournament hopes.
Anderson is clearly the centerpiece of the Cowboys offense, as they run him off a huge number of screens on virtually every possession in an attempt to get him open looks. Staggers, flairs, curls, down-screensany shot they can get him with his feet set is a good possession for them. Andersons shooting ability is simply outstanding, as he boasts excellent form, consistent mechanics, a quick release, and terrific range on his jump-shot. Despite shooting just 36% from beyond the arc this season (more an indication of the type of defenses that are thrown at him than anything), Anderson projects as a high-level NBA shooter any way you slice it when looking at the way he can put the ball in the net.
More than just a spot-up shooter, about a third of Andersons jumpers come off the dribble, of which he converts an excellent 43.4% according to Synergy Sports Technology. At 6-6, he needs very little space to get his shot off, as despite getting just average elevation on his jumper, he is able to fade away and create enough separation from his defender to get a good look, while still holding his mechanics steady.
These are all things we knew last year, though. Perhaps more impressive about the season Anderson is having is how often hes getting to the free throw line. He ranks #1 among all likely wing prospects in this draft in that category on a per-minute basis, and converts an excellent 80% of his attempts once there.
Not sporting an amazing first step, Anderson takes a measured approach to his slashing game, letting things come to him and playing the game at his own unique pace. Hes very under control and thus turns the ball over at an extremely low rate considering how heavy of an offensive load hes forced to shoulder. Whats interesting is that he appears to be extremely limited driving to his right (he drives left 86% of the time according to Synergy Sports Technology), but still doesnt let them affect him too much, as teams are so concerned with his jump-shot that they are often more than willing to concede him driving to the basket.
The biggest chink in Andersons armor and the main thing holding him back from being able to project him as an outstanding NBA role-player has always been his play on the defensive end. Unfortunately, not much seems to have changed this year. Anderson isnt much of a presence at all on the perimeter, looking very upright in his stance and showing below average lateral quickness, getting beat on a regular basis off the dribble by fairly mediocre college slashers. He doesnt use his body well enough, lacks a significant degree of physicality in his approach, and does not utilize his length at all to contest opponents shots.
Its possible that Anderson looks this way in part due to the fact that hes trying to stay out of foul trouble or because of how heavily Oklahoma State relies on him offensively. Still, its not a very encouraging sign when projecting him to the NBA level. Teams will need to study this part of his game closely in private workouts to see if he has more potential in this area than hes currently showing, as its an important factor considering his likely role in the NBA.
Regardless of his flaws on the defensive end, Anderson is having an outstanding junior season and has improved his NBA draft stock considerably from where it was last year. Looking at the success that a player like Marcus Thornton
is having as an NBA rookie, you have to wonder if Anderson cant at least be as good as him, considering that hes two inches taller. In a draft that is looking exceptionally shallow at the traditional 2-3 swingman position, Anderson at the moment stands out as one of the best options available.