(Editor’s note: Please welcome Benny Hughes to Canis Hoopus! He is a big hoops head who is extremely knowledgable, loves both the Wolves and Lynx, and will be contributing to our coverage of both teams. He is also a practice player for the Lynx, so he’s got unique insight that will be a welcomed addition here at Canis. You can follow him on Twitter @Benny__Hughes.)
When the Minnesota Timberwolves last summer signed Kyle Anderson to a two-year, $18 million contract, few people even gave it a second thought.
It was a blip on always revolving door that is the NBA. The Wolves signed him using the mid-level exception and, while it may have been an afterthought at the time, Anderson quickly became not only one of the steals of the offseason, but one of the best free agent signings in team history.
After helping end the Wolves’ season last year as a member of the Grizzlies, The nine-year NBA veteran averaged 9.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists this season - while always playing at his own pace. His affectionate nickname ‘Slow-Mo’ held true on the court this season as he diced up defenses with his methodical style of play, Anderson’s patience was a virtue as it allowed him to score and assist with ease.
Slow-Mo is fun to watch mostly because he does all of the small things right. He provides whatever the team needs in any specific situation. Whether that be as a starter, off the bench, as a power forward or a point guard, a defensive stopper or an above average shooter. Whatever you need Anderson will provide. After some back spasms that had him in and out of the lineup early in the season, he was thrust into the starting five after Karl-Anthony Towns’ injury on November 28. He responded with a tremendous season where he was a fantastic two-way player that used all of his assets to connect a team that had issues with continuity throughout the season.
Anderson was one of the glue guys that helped get this time back on the right track when it lost its way. When you needed someone to show up, Slow-Mo was always going to come ready to play. He recorded three triple-doubles this season and shot 41.0% from 3 (even with a shooting form that is a little... unorthodox). He used his length to block shots and get steals. Most importantly, he wanted to win and help instill a more competitive culture into the Wolves locker room. Anderson played a big role on this team, and they rightfully relied on him a great amount.
Kyle Anderson. Kevin Garnett. Michael Williams.— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) March 14, 2023
the three players in franchise history to record a triple-double with multiple blocks and steals. pic.twitter.com/0fMsNv4ngp
In order to build a successful roster and a winning organization, players like Anderson are imperative to that effort. They know what role they have and perform that role perfectly on and off the court. While he is never going to be mentioned in the same breath with the stars of this team, he is just as important to winning basketball games as they are.
2022-23 Highlight: Season-high 23 points against the Grizzlies
On January 27 of this year, The Timberwolves took on the No. 2 seed Memphis Grizzlies in a marquee matchup. This ended up being a revenge game for Kyle Anderson against his former team. He scored a season high 23 points to go along with six assists and three rebounds and also shot 4/7 from the 3-point line. This game was filled with highlight plays, such as Anthony Edwards soaring to dunk over Jaren Jackson Jr., Anderson throwing a lob that ended in a reverse slam for Rudy Gobert, and Anderson also stealing the ball from Ja Morant before parlaying it into a behind the head pass for a Jaden McDaniels dunk - with the amazing celebration below. The game ended in a 111-100 victory for the Timberwolves and was a part of a stretch where they went 9-2 at home in the month of January. (I am also partial to this game as I was in attendance for this Slow-Mo masterclass.)
Kyle Anderson is always one of, if not the smartest player on the floor. He knows everything that is going on around him and presses the right buttons at the right time. It is beautiful to watch unfold the way he dissects defenses and directs traffic out on the court. There is only one other player that exhibits this amount of basketball IQ on the Timberwolves: Mike Conley. They both have a knack for making the correct read when the team needs it. Even though this is a more intangible thing that cannot necessarily be quantified, it is still one of the best parts to Anderson’s game. These are the kind of players that a 21-year-old star can and should be learning from.
Not sure if this cut by Kyle Anderson is play design or ... a really smart player just making a really smart read. pic.twitter.com/SWgNKP4iee— Jace frederick (@JaceFrederick) March 1, 2023
Anderson is also a phenomenal passer and this aspect to his game was on full display this year. He obviously averaged 4.9 assists but that does not tell the whole story. He had so many hockey assists, and made plays in a variety of supplemental ways, from making the swing or entering it into the post. Along with his general passing ability, he also has shown an ability to integrate Gobert into the offense effectively and help his cohesion with the rest of the team. Him and Mike Conley are the best passers to Gobert and that will be important this offseason as they assist the rest of the team to improve in this area. His ability to move the ball around and create good shots is why Head Coach Chris Finch loves his fit in a system built upon reading the floor and reacting - and you can’t blame him for that.
big fella dominating in the paint pic.twitter.com/RaZwihnLO2— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) March 4, 2023
Rudy Gobert when Kyle Anderson throws him a pass pic.twitter.com/TbIVkAtF3c— jakes graphs (@jakesgraphs) January 28, 2023
Using His Length:
The last area of Anderson’s game that I want to highlight from this year is his ability to use his length. Slow-Mo’s wingspan is 7-foot-2 and he uses all of it to make plays on the defensive end. As you can see from the table below, Anderson uses that length to cause many steals and blocks. One of his most notable sequences came against the Golden State Warriors. With 15 seconds left on the clock and the Timberwolves down by one, Kyle Anderson stole a pass from Draymond Green and sets up KAT for a go-ahead, and eventual game-winning 3 that led to a 99-96 victory. Anderson made plays like this all season. He gets into the passing lanes and uses his length to block shots and poke steals loose, which usually leads to free points.
Jaden McDaniels is the most versatile defender in the NBA, disrupting offenses at the point of attack + at the rim.— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) December 12, 2022
Kyle Anderson is a heady defender who uses length + timing to force a ton of turnovers.
The Wolves are blessed with two of the best defensive forwards in the NBA. pic.twitter.com/PTo3vs0vow
Kyle Anderson strips Ja Morant, then throws a no-look transition pass to Jaden McDaniels for the dunk pic.twitter.com/rwNYdkAQHN— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) January 28, 2023
This play that I mentioned earlier against the Grizzlies combines all of these strengths into one 10-second clip. Anderson uses his length to poke the ball away from Morant, then picks it up and surveys all his options. As he slowly makes his way to the basket, he notices McDaniels filling the lane behind him and drops a dime to cap off the emphatic victory.
Areas to Improve:
Playing the 3
Assuming the roster is constructed as it is currently — with all three of KAT, Gobert and Naz Reid in the mix — Anderson is going to have to play small forward much more than he did this year if his 28 minutes a night stay the same (which they should). Because KAT was out for much of the season, Anderson started and played many of his minutes at the power forward position. According to Cleaning the Glass, he only played 7% of his minutes at small forward (this tweet was sent out in January so those minutes ticked up as KAT returned but that was not until later in March). This positional change requires more spacing and guarding quicker players, which Anderson will have to focus on this offseason to be able to play the small forward position. If he is able to add this to his repertoire, it will enable the Timberwolves to be much more versatile in their lineup configurations, which can only be a positive thing. It is good to be able to deploy a wide array of lineups both in personnel and playing style.
Kyle Anderson has only played 7% of his minutes at small forward this season, according to CleaningTheGlass.— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) January 29, 2023
But we're getting some minutes for Anderson at the 3 now, next to both Gobert and Knight. Anderson being able to capably play the 3 will be of value once KAT is back.
Guarding Quicker Players
This improvement is directly related to him potentially playing more minutes at the small forward position. If he is to play this position (specifically next to KAT and Gobert) he is going to need to guard more wings over a second big man. Slow-Mo earns his nickname throughout his entire game and this is a place where other teams can exploit it as a weakness instead of it usually being a strength. Anderson does have the length, strength and smarts in order to be able to make up for his lack of speed on the perimeter but it is definitely something that needs to be kept in mind if they are to play him at the small forward position. If he is unable to effectively take on this role, he will be relegated to the backup power forward position. Slow-Mo will still get a lot of deserved minutes in this case but it will make the Timberwolves less versatile and inevitably cut into his minutes to some degree.
President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly has taken a lot of understandable heat for the Gobert trade, but he deserves his roses for signing Kyle Anderson with the mid-level exception. I’m excited to see if Connelly can repeat this wildly successful on-the-margins move as he tweaks the roster in order to mold the Timberwolves into an even more dangerous roster.
Slow-Mo transformed from a mini Woj Bomb in July to an integral cornerstone of the Timberwolves’ success now and into the future. He is able to mold himself into whatever player the situation calls for, which is an invaluable asset as a complementary player. The former UCLA star is a fantastic role player that serves the team on and off the floor. Anderson’s offensive and defensive IQ are off the charts and he is always able to make the right play at the right time. As a basketball fan and a Timberwolves fan, I cannot say enough nice things about Anderson’s play this season and I hope to see him continue to flourish for the franchise.
And perhaps the thing that earned Anderson the most respect from this fanbase? He knows how to take a punch and keep on fighting.