SALT LAKE CITY — Few players bring a starter’s game off the bench quite as effectively as Ryan Anderson does each game.
The New Orleans forward has energetically embraced his sixth man role this season. It can be felt in every basket he makes and every rebound he collects.
“What this team needs from me is to be a spark off the bench,” Anderson said. “Be a guy that can bring offense, bring spacing, open up the court for everyone else. My mentality is just to go in and be aggressive. That’s how I know I can help.”
That attitude has helped Anderson become one of the NBA’s best in that role.
Anderson is averaging 18.0 points and 6.9 rebounds in 22 games. He has scored in double figures 18 times and eclipsed 20 points in eight games. In three games this season, Anderson has finished with a double-double.
“He could start on a bunch of NBA teams, but in our situation, we like playing him off the bench because he can give us the punch that we need when we’re struggling to score,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said.
Anderson can also create a host of mismatch problems with his length and shooting. When the 6-foot-10 forward is paired with Anthony Davis, the duo can force opposing teams to go smaller and rely on speed to negate the size advantage.
Such an approach doesn’t work that well. Davis can exploit a bigger defender by moving around him. He can use his size to blanket a smaller forward and box him out around the rim and keep him off the glass. Anderson, meanwhile, forces his defender to come out from the basket and guard mid-range jumpers and 3-pointers.
He is effective in long-range situations. Anderson is shooting 37.1 percent from outside this season. That sort of accuracy makes him indispensable to the second unit.
“He’s a big guy that can stretch the floor and shoot the ball,” Gentry said. “He’s a very good post-up player. We can do a lot of things when we have him and Anthony on the floor at the same time as far as spacing and playing inside-out.”
Anderson acknowledges that being an effective sixth man requires a different mental approach than doing well as a starter.
Being a starter affords a player a chance to take a few shots and try to get a feel for the rhythm and tempo of the game.
Coming off the bench, on the other hand, affords no such luxuries. Anderson understands his time on the court is directly tied to his ability to make an impact right away.
“When you’re coming off the bench, you have to be instantly involved,” Anderson said. “I don’t know if there’s any advantages or disadvantages. I just know you have to be differently focused when you’re coming off the bench.”
It’s obvious that Anderson’s focus has paid off for him. He ranks second among NBA players in total bench points and he has the third highest scoring average among that group.