Picked by the San Antonio Spurs in the first-round of the 2010 NBA draft, James Anderson was expected to provide immediate impact off the Spurs bench.
At No. 20 overall, the 6-foot-6 swingman from Oklahoma State had been the Spurs’ highest draft pick since they made Tim Duncan the No. 1 overall pick in 1997.
When Anderson played nearly 27 minutes in the regular-season opener against the Pacers, scoring 10 points, he earned the confidence of head coach Gregg Popovich.
Anderson played in six of the first seven games of his career, averaging 16 minutes and 38 seconds. He made 14 of 33 shots, 10 of 20 from 3-point range, and averaged 8.7 points. He appeared to be another impact rookie snatched from the lower reaches of the draft.
Then, after playing 11:13 in a loss to the Clippers in which he made two of the three 3-pointers he launched, Anderson experienced pain in his right foot that felt familiar.
A similar injury to his left foot had sidelined him during his high school career. When an MRI exam revealed the stress fracture, he knew there would be no quick return to the lineup.
It would be nearly three months before Anderson played again for the Spurs. By the time his foot had healed fully and he had spent some time with the D-League’s Austin Toros working into game shape, fellow rookie Gary Neal had become a sensation, a 3-point ace who would be the first Spurs player to earn All-Rookie first-team honors since Tony Parker in 2001-02.
“All players hate injuries,” Anderson said. “It’s always frustrating, especially when you’ve been playing well.”
Anderson finally played his seventh game of the season on Jan. 29. He understood the lineup that had accumulated a 39-7 record would not be changed to accommodate court time for him.
“We had a great team that was playing well,” he said. “It was hard to get back in the lineup. Things had been established. Gary had jumped up and made a real impact.”
Anderson saw court time in only 20 of the final 36 games of the regular season, playing more than 10 minutes on only eight occasions. By season’s end, his scoring average had dropped to 3.6 points. Inactive for all but Game 1 of the playoff series against the Grizzlies, he still awaits his first taste of the postseason.
Now, with a summer of development work apt to be scuttled by a labor dispute, Anderson shrugs his shoulders and does his best to take the long view.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “I’m just working now, in the gym every day, trying to get a routine I’m going to follow every day this summer.
“I’ve been working on my perimeter shot, one-dribble pull-up, driving and defense. Pretty much everything the coaches want to see. Sharpen up every aspect of my game.”
Although, his rookie year has been disappointing, Anderson can always look forward to the next season to get ready and improve his game.
Looking at the bright side, his injury paved the way for Neal’s emergence. At the start of the season, Anderson was much of a sure thing while Neal was a relatively unknown.
It will be a great challenge for Anderson to stay healthy, get better and prove to the Spurs that he truly belong. One lost season shouldn’t let him down.
With his skills and potential, I will not be surprised to see him as a part of the Spurs’ regular rotation next season.