This was the summer Ryan Anderson was waiting for.
On the heels of consecutive grueling offseasons, the New Orleans Pelicans’ forward enters training camp lighthearted and light on his feet for the first time in three years.
In between a road trip across the country, an outing at the legendary Pebble Beach golf course and an extended European vacation, the Pelicans’ sharpshooter said his focus has been on diet and exercise, eager to shed the extra 10-plus pounds he’s carried for most of the past two seasons.
“The last few months have been absolutely amazing,” Anderson said. “I’ve done so many things that I’ve always wanted to do. I got to travel and be with my family and get my body into shape. It was really nice and I’m may not get the chance to have a summer like that ever again.
“I feel so much better on the court than I have ever since I’ve been (with the Pelicans). I can’t even tell you how great it feels just to be eating healthy and going through steady workouts with cardio and weight training. It’s just been a level of focus I haven’t been able to have the past three years.”
Instead, his previous offseasons were marred by recovery.
In 2013, Anderson had to mentally recuperate following the shocking suicide of his ex-girlfriend Gia Allemand. He spent the summer mourning her death and coming to grips with a tragedy that overwhelmed everything in his life.
Then, on Jan. 3, 2014, just three months after finally returning to his mental sanctuary on the basketball floor, Anderson collided with Boston Celtics’ forward Gerald Wallace diving for a loose ball, and felt the physical side of anguish. He was ushered off the floor in a stretcher and diagnosed with a pair of herniated discs in his neck, forced to miss the final 43 games of the season.
He spent the ensuing offseason in physical therapy, not cleared to participate in full basketball activities until the day training camp opened last September.
“I’ve been out of shape,” Anderson said. “There have been moments when I’m on the floor where it felt like I was wearing an extra 10-pound vest. It makes a world of difference in a long season and it makes you sluggish. There were a lot of moments the last few years where I was thinking that this needs to change and I’m glad I’ve finally had the time to do it now.”
Although he wasn’t certain if the extra weight was the determining factor, Anderson suffered through arguably his worst statistical NBA season in 2014-15. In 61 games, the perimeter shooting specialist converted just 34 percent of his 3-pointers, worse than teammates Luke Babbitt, Quincy Pondexter and Eric Gordon.
“Anybody who is 300 pounds can stand in a spot and shoot, that’s not what it affected,” Anderson said. “But shooting is more than that, because it’s a lot of running off of screens and getting into a spot to find the perfect shot. I can already feel how much quicker I am just getting to those spots after this summer and it allows me to find better angles to shoot from.”
He also posted a career low offensive rebounding rate and the worst player efficiency rating since his rookie year. While his defense has never been stellar, it slumped into being the second-worst power forward in the NBA, according to ESPN’s real plus-minus data.
Now, with a chance to get fully conditioned for the season, he’s already begun to feel the benefits just by playing pickup games in voluntary team workouts.
“Everything was different,” Anderson said. “Obviously, two years ago was so difficult and that was a huge setback for me physically, but understandably. I couldn’t do much then. And last year with the injury, as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t do anything at all. Physically I had to come back from surgery and so I was kept off the court. This year is a total change from that.”
Even despite his recent struggles, Anderson is an undeniable weapon for the Pelicans offense.
When newly-hired New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry was scouting the Pelicans in the 2015 playoffs (as an assistant for the Golden State Warriors), he said the 6-foot-10 forward’s ability to hit shots and create space for Anthony Davis provided a wrinkle defenses simply can’t counteract.
In the team’s high-paced, scoring-stimulated system Gentry is implementing, Anderson could be more valuable than ever.
“He kept me up thinking about what we can do to slow him down when him and A.D. are on the floor together,” Gentry said.
“That’s something hardly any teams can do, have those kinds of combinations that work so well together. Ryan is a big part of what we are going to do because we are going to take a lot of 3-pointers and he can make a whole lot of them.”