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Atlanta Hawks 2018-2019 player preview: Justin Anderson

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“Simba” knows his role and he plays it well

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

In advance of the 2018-2019 NBA season, the Peachtree Hoops crew will preview each player on the current roster. The eighth installment evaluates newly acquired forward Justin Anderson.


Justin Anderson is the quintessential role player.

He knows the right spots to go to on the floor and he runs his lanes well. A lot of his game resembles Kent Bazemore — he’s constantly moving and stays active without the ball on offense, though Anderson doesn’t have nearly the same shooting and playmaking prowess as the veteran Bazemore.

Anderson’s been a career-long backup to wing players like Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews, Chandler Parsons and Marco Belinelli. Last season in Philadelphia, he dealt with shin splints in his left leg and only appeared in 38 games.

He arrives to Atlanta as a part of the deal that shipped Mike Muscala off to Philadelphia and Dennis Schröder to Oklahoma City this summer. Anderson was perhaps one of the pieces Atlanta wanted to get in return for taking on Carmelo Anthony’s deal after playing under head coach Lloyd Pierce in Philadelphia. In a previous interview this summer, Anderson said that he understands Pierce’s standard and said that Pierce understands that he will match that standard every night by playing hard every opportunity he gets on the floor.

Offensively, he has great awareness and IQ. He’s an aggressive wing who crashes the glass after almost every shot attempt. At 7:18 in the above video, watch how his constant movement and athleticism allows him to make plays.

At 3:49, on a quick 2-on-1 fast break after an Amir Johnson steal, with Tyler Zeller playing the role of the lone guy on the island, Anderson hides in Zeller’s blindspot and sneaks in the quick two.

At 2:03, Fultz begins to get the hot hand and as the No. 1 pick, he demands the attention of four Bucks defenders as he’s looking to drive into the paint. Antetokounmpo is slowly crashing in to force a Fultz pass, where he can either go to Anderson in the corner or make a cross-chest pass to Ersan Ilyasova on the wing. Fultz ultimately places the trust in his scoring abilities above all other options and decides to put up a floater. In the time of seeing Fultz spinning into the lane, Anderson comes in on the baseline just in case Fultz needs to dump off the ball at the last second or rebound his miss.

Although known as a physical defender, Anderson hasn’t been the quickest guy on the defense when it comes to reacting to certain situations. He’s a big two guard at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, which perhaps slows him down in certain defensive sets.

At 2:20 in the above video, a Thon Maker screen has Anderson fighting to come under on Antetokounmpo, which leaves him unbalanced for a split second. He’s tempted to help Ersan Ilyasova help lock up Jabari Parker, a scorer who’s deadly for most spots on the floor. He tries to stay true to his man, Antetokounmpo, who’s behind the three-point line and closes out too late on Parker.

At 3:57, in a blowout situation, Thon Maker drives for a layup that Anderson gives him, perhaps to prevent foul trouble and injury on the last day of the regular season.

Anderson can be a pesky defender as you see him elbow Wade on the chest and keeping tabs of his jersey before Wade throws him down on the front row. The most positive part of this clip is Anderson keeping the same antagonist energy after being thrown down by immediately springing back up and getting back in Wade’s face. This response, like Trae Young’s response to Grayson Allen tangling him up in the Summer League, show that the Hawks have some players who would allow anything to happen on the court, which has been a minor problem with past Hawks teams.

Here’s another example of Anderson being physical in the 2016-17 season. He gives LeBron James a shove to the ground using his shoulder coming across the lane before Kyrie Irving shoves him into the Sixers bench.

Statistically speaking, Anderson is a worse three-point shooter than Bazemore and, unfortunately, about half of his shot attempts are three pointers. Dating back to his days at Virginia, Anderson has been known to be a streaky shooter, though, and that could come into play here.

It will be interesting to see who wins the battle of minutes between Anderson and DeAndre’ Bembry this season, with the assumption of first round pick Kevin Huerter getting a chance to get his feet wet this year. The battle the two young wing players might just come down to health, as Bembry has had his issues staying on the floor through the first two years of his career.

Taking a step forward as a shooter while retaining his strong defensive acumen will serve Anderson well as he looks toward restricted free agency next summer. With some familiarity with the coaching staff and schemes, Anderson should have a leg up on the competition, but he’ll still have to put it together on the floor for the Hawks to invest in him long-term.