Philadelphia 76ers: Justin Anderson should shine with the Hawks

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 12: Justin Anderson
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 12: Justin Anderson /

Now free from the Philadelphia 76ers wing logjam, Justin Anderson should shine with the Lloyd Pierce coached Atlanta Hawks.

For all the good that came from the Philadelphia 76ers 2017-2018 season, one of the few blemishes on an otherwise great campaign has to be Justin Anderson‘s health.

Once anointed the crown jewel of the Nerlens Noel trade, Anderson was brought in to be a high upside defensive guard/forward capable of locking down opposing wingmen both alongside Robert Covington or as his foil.

Emphasis on was.

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Sure, he did have some stand-up performances in his 62 games in the red, white, and blue, including some very memorable matchups against then-New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony and a much-needed performance against Dwyane Wade the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs, but Anderson simply couldn’t stay on the court enough to cement his place in Brett Brown‘s rotation, missing over half of the season due to a variety of injuries.

In a league like the NBA, the best ability is availability, especially for a non-star player.

These struggles to remain healthy, when coupled with the team’s recent influx of young two guards like Zhaire Smith, Shake Milton, Landry Shamet and even 2017 first overall pick Markelle Fultz, who will probably log at least some time off the ball next season, quickly diminished Anderson’s future prospects on the team, and he ultimately lead to the decision to ship the third year player to Atlanta as part of the three-team Carmelo Anthony-Dennis Schroder trade that brought stretch four Mike Muscala back to Philly.

While some may consider Anderson’s inclusion in the deal nothing more than filler, he’s actually stepping into a pretty great opportunity on his new team.

Reuniting with his former assistant coach Lloyd Pierce, who filled the role in Philly from 2014-2018, Anderson should provide the first year head coach with a known commodity who’s already familiar with a lot of the scheme elements he will likely employ with Hawks. As one of the worst teams in the league last season, there’s not a lot of talent present in Atlanta at the moment, especially at shooting guard, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility to imagine Anderson beating out a 29-year-old Kent Bazemore and second-year guard Tyler Dorsey for a spot in the starting five alongside 2018 fifth overall pick Trae Young and ascending forwards Taurean Prince and John Collins.

Already a plus-defender after only three seasons in the league, Anderson’s game is almost the antithesis of what most teams want in a modern-day shooting guard, as his outside shot is, shall we say, still a work in progress. Owning a less than ideal 30 percent career shooting percentage from 3-point range, Anderson would have to improve considerably to get to even the NBA average of 35 percent, but that may not be as crucial for a team like the Hawks, especially with how their backcourt is presently constructed. With Young already looking like a major project for the defensive end of the court at a very, very slight 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Anderson’s defensive tenacity, and ability to effectively switch off on either guard position should help to alleviate that disparity and give Pierce some flexibility as he navigates his first go-around as an NBA head coach.

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And who knows, maybe a chance to prove his worth on a team more concerned with player development than short-term winning is all Justin Anderson needs to finally put it all together and become a full-fledged NBA starter. If he can finally get through a season without any major injuries, I know I won’t bet against him.