Player: Justin Anderson.
Position: Shooting guard/Small forward
Expected draft position: Mid-late first round
Securing a stretch-4 unlocks a lot of the Wizards offense next year, but it doesn't solve their biggest obstacle this offseason. They have to get younger along the wings, and while Randy Wittman didn't explicitly say he needed better perimeter options, we all sort of know where he's headed with this, via The Washington Post:
"Playing faster. Those are the things I want to try to improve this team, moving forward, with. Being able to play smaller. Being able to play faster. . . . We've got to be able to have the pieces to do that in the regular season."
Ramon Sessions helped fill the void by operating alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal, but that only worked because there was no cap on the amount of minutes those two could play in the postseason. You can't get by just using those three players in the regular season. Rasual Butler will be an unrestricted free agent this summer at age 37. Martell Webster is entering the pivotal third year of his deal, which almost works as an expiring contract considering his final season isn't fully guaranteed. The Wizards could potentially waive him, which could not only free up a roster spot for a functional wing, but also offload salary for the summer of 2016.
As they look for upgrades, they'll need to get younger. The number don't fully bear this out, but the offense looked noticeably different when Otto Porter would replace Paul Pierce in the lineup, ditto for whenever Beal or even Sessions would come back in for Butler or Webster. Now, this has just as much to do with Wittman's insistence on playing big lineups, but it didn't help having wing players not filling their lanes in transition or as Wall pushes the ball off misses.
That's where Justin Anderson comes into play. The 6'6" wing out of the University of Virginia has tremendous leaping ability -- registering a 43-inch max vert at the draft combine -- to go with his near 7'0" wingspan and NBA-ready frame. He's a bit of a late bloomer as he started in just one season under coach Tony Bennett, but he has several things going for him that make him an ideal fit for what the Wizards' offense should be next season. Let's take a look.
Anderson isn't a shot creator. He sports a high dribble, which impairs him anytime he looks to push the ball in transition or attack a defender closing out hard on him. He'll often put his head down if he does look to attack, which takes away any obvious passing lanes, and puts him at a severe disadvantage anytime he wanders into a packed lane or as he meets a big man at the rim. He shot below 50 percent inside the arc in all three seasons as a Cavalier and 51 percent in the paint last season per DraftExpress, not the marks you typically see from a wing with his physical tools.
None of that should matter to Washington because he does two things they so desperately need their wings to do: space the floor and move without the ball. Anderson didn't have the same route tree you come to expect from shooters -- his movements typically ranged from simple curls off pindown screens and meandering to open spots along the perimeter -- nothing overly impressive. But they did run him off back-cuts for alley-oops and leverage his excellent catch-and-shoot ability whenever possible, which should immediately translate over to the next level.
They regularly stationed bigs around the elbows where they can pin unsuspected defenders with flare screens, and Anderson was heady enough to lull his man to sleep in order to set them up.
But what will get him playing time is his ability to always space the floor. He plays his role well, and never gets in the way.
He uses the corners better than any prospect in the draft. But all this comes with one big warning sign: we have just a one year sample size proving he's a good shooter. He shot 30 percent in each of his first two years before breaking out for a scorching 45 percent as a Junior. He managed to speed up his release by not bringing the ball all the way down to his knees off the catch, known as the "dip", and he no longer cocks the ball back to his ears, instead keeping it in front of him where he's more on balance. He also doesn't kick out his leg as much as he used to, and he's gotten better at landing close to where he started his shot.
Still, that's enough to get teams to worry. He tapered off toward the end of the season -- in part due to a hand injury midway through the season that took him out for six weeks -- and he'll still revert to some bad habits at times, particularly with his jump shooting off the dribble. He's an excellent standstill shooter, but there's not a whole lot of evidence suggesting he can sprint off screens against NBA defenses and make shots.
But again, how much of that should Washington take into consideration? They're not asking much from their shooters as is, and though the playbook may change with a better offense next year, there's always a spot on this roster for an athlete that can run the floor and spot-up as long as Wall is at the helm.
Much like his offense, you take the good with the bad. Anderson projects to be a plus defender because of his frame and what he can do on the ball, but playing in Virginia's 'pack-line' defense sapped any improvements he would've made as a help defender.
Pack-line brings all the tenets of your everyday man-to-man scheme, except for one caveat: each defender not directly on the ball has to be below an imaginary line behind the three-point arc (which they'll often tape onto the court during practice sessions). The idea is to prevent dribble penetration and force the defense to swing the ball and hit contested threes.
Without going into all the specifics, you can see why this type of exaggerated scheme isn't used in the NBA, and why Virginia unraveled late against Duke back in February. Teams simply are too good from three and have too many shooters that can actually put the ball on the floor and make plays. Anderson got his share of one-on-one battles, which he did well on against Justice Winslow, but more often than not, it wasn't without some form of help coming in from the elbows.
Anderson will need to be coached up defensively. He ball-watches a ton, and fails to provide help along the backline or against big men rolling down the lane. He'll dig down on post ups, but he'll either commit too soon or stray from his mark, resulting in open threes.
He has all the tools you want out of a "3 and D" prospect, but with some baggage as well. I think it'll take a year of seasoning and learning the intricacies of an NBA defense, but it wouldn't surprise me if he stepped in from day one and made an impact either. There's rough edges, but he's also a prospect with good size and athleticism and with NBA range on his shot.