ATLANTA — It’s been an uneventful season for Justin Anderson on the court, to say the least.
After having offseason surgery on the leg that limited him to playing only 38 games last year, Anderson finally made his debut as an Atlanta Hawk on Nov. 19, 2018, against the Los Angeles Clippers. Per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce said that Anderson was ahead of his expected timetable in recovery during his entire rehab, with the original date being Dec. 1.
Anderson left his first impression on week six and game 17 of the regular season, with a stat line of 0 points, one personal foul and a missed three-point attempt in three minutes of action. The next game against the Toronto Raptors, Anderson found 14 minutes of action, then 17 the next game against the Boston Celtics on Nov. 23. Anderson finished the month of November averaging 10.7 minutes per game, with his circumstances looking to improve moving into December.
The expectations were placed on hold once again in the final month of the calendar year. A career-long reserve backing up the likes of Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews, Chandler Parsons, Marco Belinelli, Anderson once again found himself being the odd wing out in the rotation that featured Kent Bazemore, Kevin Huerter, Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry. He averaged less than 10 minutes a night for the months of December through February.
“You just have to be able to have perseverance,” Anderson said. “Every season is going to give you a different challenge. Coming into this season, not being able to be with my teammates during training camp, having to earn the trust of my teammates and my coaches who are new with, it was important to stay in the gym, work extremely hard and just stay ready. Cheer my teammates on in the meantime, try to be the best teammate that I can be. Playing full-court 1-on-1 with our player development guy Nate Babcock, it’s all of those types of things that you have to do to stay ready.”
Anderson’s preparation came in handy on March 31 against the Milwaukee Bucks when he led the team with 24 points, 12 rebounds and two steals playing a season’s best 31 minutes.
“Yeah, I played well tonight,” Anderson said after the +5 performance, “but the most important thing is that we came out on top and we put ourselves in position to win.”
The unselfish answer is one that fits the brand of Anderson’s character around the team this season.
In the Milwaukee win, Anderson had 10 points and seven rebounds at halftime, and he made a nice swing pass from the corner to an open Bazemore on the wing for a three-pointer in the final 1:30 of the half. In the third quarter, he found his total spring up to 19 points and nine rebounds after hitting back-to-back threes. After the second three, Anderson turned to the Atlanta bench and gave Jaylen Adams an emphatic high five on his way back on defense.
A few moments later, Anderson and his hot hand were sat back down on the bench until the 5:41 mark in the fourth quarter.
Although his three-point shot wasn’t falling at the same frequency as it was prior to being subbed out, Anderson’s motor was still going.
He stayed ready.
Anderson grabbed his 10th rebound falling out of bounds, Trae Young found him on a backdoor cut for a two-handed lay-in with 2:43 remaining in the fourth quarter
He made a key three-pointer in overtime and he urged the crowd to get louder after Milwaukee called a timeout following consecutive buckets from John Collins and Alex Len.
It wasn’t about him setting a career-high in rebounds or scoring two points fewer than his career high of 26, it was about his team having a better shot at winning.
During the Hawks’ preseason open house, Anderson and Len settled on a sideline that was on the opposite side of the court where a majority of the rest of the team was sitting after impromptu sessions of mingling and interacting with fans who attended the event were winding down.
It was time for the rookie talent show, hosted by Big Tigger and Dewayne Dedmon, and Huerter stole the show by performing Ice Cube’s “Today Was a Good Day” while dawning a pirate suit. The second Huerter finished the hook and threw his arms into the air signifying victory, Anderson popped up, helped Len off the court and ran to mid-floor to rush Huerter.
In addition to trying to be the best teammate he could’ve been for the Hawks this season, Anderson also wanted to put on for his former school, Virginia, as the team faces off against No. 5 Auburn in the national semifinal matchup on April 6.
“Last night, I was with my family and we were watching the [Elite Eight],” Anderson said while sporting his UVA letterman. “[Virginia junior guard] Kyle Guy, whew, how tough he is to come down with an ankle injury, come back and have a big game against [Purdue], he’s from Indianapolis, so I know that meant a lot to him. [Virginia junior guard] Ty Jerome being ‘Big Stones Ty.’ That was surreal. [Virginia men’s head basketball] Coach [Tony] Bennett, you can just see that passion, that built up over the last six years when he screamed at the top of his lungs after he cut down those nets, I felt it. I think everybody else on our team felt it. We have a big alumni, even though I’m not alumni, they’re probably going to kick me out, but we have a big alumni group chat, and that was going crazy [during the Elite Eight].
“We’re just going to keep staying humble, take it one game at a time and hopefully we come out on top.”
Anderson is a restricted free agent this summer, and said that he’s living in an apartment in Atlanta, which contrasts from the house that he was on the verge of buying in Dallas as a rookie.