It’s something New Orleans basketball fans, pundits and the like have wondered for some time while watching the Pelicans struggle at small forward: “Why not put Ryan Anderson there?”
Well, it appears that may happen. Neither Anderson nor coach Monty Williams is sure it’ll be as soon as the Pelicans’ next preseason game, Tuesday night against the Houston Rockets at the Smoothie King Center, though.
Anderson, at 6-foot-10, is a 3-point shooting power forward known as a stretch four — a tweener between power forward and small forward. He played small forward in practice Friday and said it’s something he doesn’t mind giving a try.
“I need to learn that position in the offense,” he said. “It’s something I’m comfortable doing. I’m just the kind of guy who wants to be out on the court and play. As long as I’m doing well, keep me out there.”
The reason no serious thought had been given to putting Anderson at small forward, Williams has said in the past, is that it would be unfair to him defensively. Small forwards typically are some of the league’s quickest, most gifted athletes, explosive scorers and versatile performers. Plus, Anderson is the key player on the second unit in his current role, his scoring helping to keep the Pelicans competitive while the starters rest.
But with small forwards Darius Miller, John Salmons and Luke Babbitt combining to shoot 29 percent (14-of-48) so far, the preseason is not a bad time to take a look, swingman Tyreke Evans’ hamstring injury notwithstanding. And with Williams’ experience with the U.S. Basketball team this summer admittedly an influence, he seems open to more ideas. For example, while talking about Jimmer Fredette, Williams said he’d rather think about what a player is than what he isn’t or can’t do.
“I think I hurt Tyreke with that,” Williams said, referring to the end of last season when he said Evans, at 6-6, isn’t a small forward because of his height.
But this season, the Pelicans again are resigned to have Evans at the position to get their best players in the lineup. Evans is embracing it, saying, “They’ve got to guard me, too.”
Anderson seems to be taking a page out of Evans’ book concerning matchups at small forward. For one, other teams would have to guard a 6-10 small forward who can make 3-pointers at a prolific rate but also post up and is a hard-hat rebounder.
“Obviously, length is an advantage,” he said. “I’ve played it before. Not a ton.”
As far as defense, Anderson said it could work for much the same reason Pelicans coaches now think it’s feasible to have Evans there: new center Omer Asik and All-Star power forward Anthony Davis.
Both are excellent shot-blockers, Davis leading the league last season at 2.82 per game. They can be expected to have the team’s back defensively, covering up for mistakes or matchups that any defender would be hard-pressed to win.
“At the three position, there are some guys nobody can guard,” Anderson said. “LeBron James, you’re going to try to contain him. Omer and Anthony, having those guys on the court at the same time, if I did play the three, would be tremendously helpful. We have a team defense; it’s not really just a one-on-one-type style. As far as defense goes, we have a huge advantage.”
Williams said defense would still be a concern, though.
“The toughest thing is on the other end,” he said, “because you can easily say, ‘Well, just get back in zone (defense).’ Well, it’s hard to get back in zone off of a miss. So he could easily end up on a shooting guard. That doesn’t help us at all.”
The idea is just in the talking stage, but Williams said he thinks Anderson can play small forward offensively.
“He has the ability with his shooting to space the floor,” Williams said. “You have to shorten your package a little bit and not give him too many plays. He can do it in pick-and-roll sets; we have a number of sets that can help him learn that position. Putting him in too many packages can confuse him.”
After sitting out all but 22 games last season with his neck injury, Anderson is trying to get on track at his natural position. He has had some encouraging preseason games, though. He shot 3-of-6 on 3-pointers to score 12 points in the win against Miami. He followed that with 14 points — shooting 4-of-8 on 3s — and six rebounds against Atlanta and had 14 points and seven rebounds against Washington.
“I’ve been working on different things, obviously just trying to get my feeling back on the court,” he said. “We all have to get in rhythm.”
NOTE: With the Pelicans able to work at their facility from Thursday through Monday, Williams was set to get the team back in training camp mode with two-a-day practices. Saturday likely will be an exception, though. “We had such a good practice (Friday), John Salmons stepped up in front of the team and kind of put me on the spot,” Williams said. “He was like, ‘Coach, we went so hard today, we deserve one practice (Saturday).’ I’m going to think about one. But if we do go one, it will be a longer practice.”