Eye on the Draft: Justin Anderson

The month of June is upon us, which means there's just about three and a half weeks left until this year's NBA Draft, which is scheduled for June 25th in Brooklyn, NY. The Boston Celtics have been doing their due diligence working out potential prospects who they may be interested in taking with their picks in the 1st (16, 28) and 2nd rounds (33, 45).

The main areas of focus for the Celtics heading into the draft will be finding a rim protecting big man, or selecting a wing that can produce on both ends of the floor. After today's workouts, they may not need to look any further for the latter. Enter the 6'6", 230 pound product of the University of Virginia, Justin Anderson.

With a 6'11" wingspan, the quickness of a two-guard, and upper body strength that is NBA (or NFL) ready now, Anderson is an absolute nightmare for his offensive opposition. Look out Lebron! Okay, maybe that's a bit of an overstatement, but it's no coincidence that the Virginia Cavaliers were the 5th ranked team in the nation in defensive efficiency in 2013-14, and 1st in the nation this past season.

It's not often Anderson will be beat off the dribble, but when he does he possesses great closeout speed and lateral movement. These physical gifts along with a 43 inch vertical leap and some serious muscle, make him an elite wing defender in this draft class. Most scouts and experts think he'll only get better as he has a high motor and has shown improvement in many areas of his game over his three year collegiate career at Virginia.

According to Derek Bodner at Draftexpress.com, Anderson's defensive metrics are relatively pedestrian for a guy of his physical tools, averaging only 1.0 steals and 0.9 blocks per 40 minutes, pace adjusted. Part of this could be the result of head coach Tony Bennett's pack-line defensive philosophy, which places a high emphasis on playing the gaps and denying driving lanes.

Players will be looking over their shoulders trying to locate Anderson when they're on the break in the open floor before going up for a layup or dunk, and there is good reason for that as evidenced below.

But Anderson is projected to be a first rounder in June's NBA Draft not just because of his defense, but the fact he's drastically improved his game on the offensive end in the 2014-15 season for UVA.

With the length and athleticism Anderson showcases, he's always been a threat in transition and off the ball on offense. He could easily be a part of the next era of NBA Dunk Contest participants.

Though he can occasionally create his own shot, Anderson's ballhandling ability does leave a lot left to be desired. Mostly a straight-line drive guy who has trouble changing direction and dribbling with his off hand, the fact that he improved his jumpshot in his junior year is what's put him into most scout's top 20 lists.

Via Synergy Sports Technology, Anderson's overall effectiveness on jump shots increased from 32.1%, good for 0.854 points per possession and a 43rd percentile ranking, to 39.8%, good for 1.146 points per possession and a ranking better than all but 10% of his peers. That included improvement both on jump shots off the dribble (up from 25.8% for 0.548 points per possession to 37% for 0.889) and, especially, from the catch, where he connected on an outstanding 43.7% of his shots, yielding 1.322 points per possession, a number which places him in the top 7%.

Anderson has worked hard to correct his shooting form, from his footwork, to his follow-through. He has added a much more consistent release point and the proof is in the pudding, as he shot a career-high 45.2% from 3-point range last season (up from 29% the previous year).

He's not an offensive juggernaut by any means, and most likely projects to be a role player with superb defensive ability, but he has improved his shot selection as well as his turnover ratio, and that is going to be key for him heading into this year's draft.

Anderson doesn't view himself as just a defensive player. After working out with the Celtics alongside fellow wing prospect Rondae Hollis-Jefferson today, Anderson had some rather interesting things to say...

Certainly doesn't sound like Justin is afraid to take a few jabs at his competition leading up to the draft. If you're going to make statements like that, you'd better be ready to back it up.

From his own perspective, Anderson did just that, and also suggested another small forward with potential to be drafted by the Celtics may have backed out of today's workout.

He'll need to continue to work on his offense and learn to create off the dribble if he plans on being more than just a solid defensive role player in the NBA. But the freakish hops and explosiveness are hard to dismiss.

If he continues to hit his shots in his pre-draft workouts, someone is going to fall in love with this kid and take him in the top 20. Though it is also very possible his lack of offensive output at Virginia may cause him to fall into the late 1st round.

He only averaged 7.6 points per game as a freshman, 7.8 as a sophomore, and finally this season in his big step up, he averaged 12.2. But he still only shot the ball an average of 8.5 times a game. The difference this season was he made the most of his attempts and played under control for coach Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers.

The Celtics clearly like his gusto, and why wouldn't they? A guy who comes out swinging in his post-workout interviews like Anderson did clearly has a chip on his shoulder and wants to prove he is better than the other players available at his position. Though his shot was much improved in 2015, I'm still not sure it's a good idea to bank on him being NBA ready with his jumper. That said, he is going to bring the physical game wherever he does go, and the strength & length combination will go a long way for him come draft night.

He's got a lot of improving to do on the offensive end, but his build and his defensive abilities make him a very intriguing option for the Celtics at pick sixteen in the first round. Especially considering that Boston, along with every other Eastern Conference team in the NBA, will be searching for a way to stop Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the near future. Anderson may be a Jimmy Butler kind of player in the making. The problem is, he could also turn out to be more of an Xavier Henry type. Only time will tell.

Justin Anderson provides plenty of upside and it's going to be hard for a team like the Celtics to pass on him if available at sixteen. I still think Bobby Portis is the guy Boston should be targeting for their first pick. But there's a lot of buzz that Portis' draft stock has been rising in recent weeks. Small forward is also a much more direct area of need for Boston currently speaking than the power forward position, which Portis projects to be.

There are more versatile, safer options at the wing position like Stanley Johnson, Justise Winslow and Kelly Oubre in this year's draft class, but none project to be available when the Celtics make their selection. I'd give Anderson the slight edge in favor of other wing players like Hollis-Jefferson, Dekker and R.J. Hunter though. In my opinion he could contribute to a team right out of the gate, whereas the others would need more time to develop and adjust to the NBA's style of play.

Pairing Anderson with a backcourt of Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley would make three top class defenders with relentless motors that would be sure to frustrate the hell out of any team trying to push the ball in transition. It's just a question of whether that 42.5% from downtown last season was a fluke, or a sign of things to come.

Top photo: Streeter Lecka
Shot photo: John McDonnell/The Washington Post
Net photo: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Bottom photo: cjonline.com

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