Which Justin Anderson will the NBA be getting?

justin dunkFrom the time he first stepped on Grounds, it was obvious that Justin Anderson was destined for a job in professional sports.

It didn’t necessarily seem to be basketball, though.

In his first two seasons at UVA, Anderson averaged 7.7 points per game on 41.3 percent shooting from the field and 29.8 percent shooting from three-point range.

The 6’6” guard with a 6’11” wing span was a shutdown defender on the perimeter and a great weakside and open-court rim protector (72 blocks in 63 games). But his ball-handling was suspect, his ability to get to the rim was limited to catching and finishing on alley-oops, and he couldn’t consistently hit the open jumper.

So if Anderson was going to get paid to play pro sports after UVA, it was going to be playing basketball overseas, or maybe making the transition along the lines of the likes of Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez and Julius Peppers in taking his talents to the NFL.

But Anderson got better over the summer of 2014, working on his jump shot, and that seemed to open up his offensive talents.

Through the first 15 games of his junior season, Anderson shot 51.4 percent from the floor and 60.9 percent from three-point range.

The three-point numbers, off the charts, obviously, were what had NBA execs drooling. Anderson was no longer just an athletic freak; he was a freak with what appeared to be mad game.

But even then, the numbers threatened to be a bit of a mirage. It’s one thing to be 60.9 percent from three; it’s another thing to be 28-of-46 from three over the course of 15 games, which is to say, he wasn’t exactly a volume shooter shooting 60.9 percent from long-range.

Give Anderson credit, he was knocking down the shots, but how much of that stretch was him having an improved stroke, and how much of it was just better shot selection, and could there have been a factor of it simply being small sample size?

It’s likely there were elements of each of the three, but the small sample size for that 15-game stretch looks to be the strongest case when you consider how Anderson’s season finished out.

After Jan. 1, Anderson was 19-of-58 (32.8 percent) from three, basically reverting back to form from his first two seasons. After entering the new year leading the Cavs in scoring at 15.0 points per game, Anderson scored 9.8 points per game after Jan. 1.

The other questions remain after his junior year. Anderson is still at best a suspect ball-handler who can’t seem to get to the rim on his own (case in point: Anderson shot 38.1 percent on two-point shots in ACC play in 2014-2015) despite his freakish athletic ability.

The one thing that he seemed to have going for him, the much improved shooting from three, is just as much at question.

Is Anderson the 60 percent shooter that he was for 15 games in November and December, or the 30 percent shooter that he was the other two and a half seasons he was in Charlottesville?

Extended out, is he the 15-points-a-game scorer that he was for two months, or the eight- to nine-points-per-game guy that he was consistently at Virginia?

NBA execs are reportedly telling Anderson that he’s a first-round pick, but it seems that there are 40-45 guys being told by NBA execs right now that they’re first-round picks.

Those execs now get the chance to break down countless hours of game tape along with seeing the guys in a succession of predraft workouts.

Let’s hope for Justin’s sake that he still looks like a first-round pick when the dust settles in June. The jury, unfortunately, is very much still out on that point at this stage.

– Column by Chris Graham


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