Sports Out West

Ryan Anderson quietly emerging as a top NBA big

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SACRAMENTO – Eyes are glued to the unibrow, which is fine for Ryan Anderson.

The twenty-first pick in 2008 out of Cal doesn’t get much media attention playing next to New Orleans Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis, but Anderson is making the most of his anonymity by focusing on his craft.

Through Christmas, the power forward is averaging a career-high 20.4 points-per-game and hitting 3s at a 43.4 percent clip. Anderson is also leading the NBA in free throw percentage (making 49-of-50 attempts) and contributing 6.2 rebounds-per-game (2.9 on the offensive glass). He is a playing a career-high 36 minutes a night despite struggling with a broken toe to start the season.

Anderson’s fixture in the league wasn’t always so certain. In his first year with the New Jersey Nets, the forward shot under 40 percent and was traded in the offseason to the Orlando Magic in the Vince Carter-Rafer Alston deal. Anderson struggled to beat out Brandon Bass for backup minutes in 2009-10, but the following campaign he made his presence averaging 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds. In 2011-12 Anderson earned 61 starts, which he used to boost his production to 16.1 points and 7.7 rebounds and win Most Improved Player.

The Magic decided to dump Anderson in a cost-cutting move in summer 2012, and he now finds himself in the Bayou. The Cal alum hopes he can finally settle down.

“I’ve been all over now. New Jersey, Orlando, New Orleans…it is refreshing to come out here because you get California weather and air,” Anderson told Sports Out West on December 23. “But there’s nothing like coming home.”

The Pelicans flew in to Sleep Train Arena on Monday and dismantled the Sacramento Kings 113-100. The Kings ballpark is a short drive away from Oak Ridge high school, where Anderson landed on the map as a force with a sweet stroke and relentless hustle. There was one moment where he saw his own potential.

“Playing the state championship and winning it here at Arco (in 2005) when it was Arco was definitely my best high school memory,” Anderson recalled. “I’ll never forget how great that felt because we were huge underdogs and we came out and really surprised people.”

Aside from grade school connections, Anderson loves coming back to Northern California for its unique environment. He attributes his parents to making him a tree hugger.

“My family is a really outdoorsy family. I love going to American River, all the lakes up there (and) Lake Tahoe is a short drive. There’s such so much clean, undisturbed nature where I live.”

When the holidays end, Anderson will return to the grind of basketball. At 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, the big has his limitations guarding pick-and-rolls and isolation plays. He is formidable keeping scorers out of the key, and his offense is well-rounded, though the 25-year-old admits holes.

“I’m really working on my post-up game a lot, as well as off the dribble,” Anderson noted.

But such technical improvements pale in thought to the fact a steady four-star recruit from a small high school now finds himself in the NBA. A unique face-up four, Anderson may not garner the All-Star votes of a frontcourt teammate, but he has respect from his professional peers.

Photo Credit: Nathaniel Butler / Getty Images

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Rui Thomas

Rui Thomas is an NFL and NBA aficionado whose credits include Yahoo! Sports, FanNation, GoldenGateSports and Radiosurvivor.com. He also owns the Theruination.net. Rui grew up an obsessive fan of the Sacramento Kings and Oakland Raiders, but he sympathizes with every West Coast team.