DALLAS — Selected with the 21st overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft, Dallas Mavericks rookie Justin Anderson didn’t expect to be asked to carry a heavy load during his first professional season. He only hoped to fit in.
Joining a Dallas team with proven veterans on the wings, Anderson hoped to simply work his way into the rotation during his rookie season. But with injuries to the Mavericks’ veteran core, the former Virginia standout saw himself thrust into a starting role late in the season and into the playoffs.
All told, Anderson appeared in 55 games this season, sliding into the starting lineup nine times for Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. He also averaged 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds an outing, making the most of his 11.8 minutes per game. But after scoring 14 points, pulling down four rebounds, dishing an assist, recording a block and collecting three steals in the Mavericks’ first-round playoff series-clinching 118-104 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Anderson may have saved his best performance of the season for last.
“I think Justin is just really starting to come into his own. The last game was, I think, a nice caption of what he could be,” Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson explained.
Playing few meaningful minutes throughout the early stage of the season, Anderson was called upon after the Mavericks dropped three games below .500 following a 133-111 loss at Sacramento on March 27. He was then inserted into the first unit while making his second career start the following night in Denver. And alongside second-year big man Dwight Powell, Anderson proved to be just the spark the Mavs needed for a 97-88 victory, scoring 11 points, grabbing four rebounds, dishing two assists, grabbing a steal and registering two blocks in 24 minutes of action.
The Mavericks won the next five games after that as well, capturing victories in seven of their final nine outings to reach the playoffs for a 15th time in 16 years. That included Anderson’s career-high 19 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in a 103-93 win over Memphis on April 8. And according to Carlisle, the emergence of Anderson was a major key to turning the team’s season around.
“You know, when you have a definable skill in the NBA and you’re a competitor, you know, you can play and be effective as a younger player,” Carlisle explained.
“Anderson played extremely well, particularly the last 15 games,” the coach added. “The last nine of the season, and then the five in the playoffs. … We want to develop more of (his game), but at the right pace. You know, again, one of his great skills is his competitiveness, and that’s something you look for in any draft prospect, free agent, or anything else. That last nine games of the regular season, when he was in the starting lineup the majority of the time, he gave us a great physical presence, he gave us a great competitive presence, he gave us rebounding, toughness, along with scoring and shotmaking.”
Experiencing a fair share of highs and lows during his rookie season, Anderson will now try to build on his stellar play to close the year.
Seeing a spike in his minutes in the month of April to 26.3 a game, the 22-year-old Anderson averaged 7.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.1 blocks during the final seven games of the regular season. He then upped his scoring average in the playoffs, posting 9.4 points, 4.0 boards and 1.4 assists in 18.8 minutes an outing as the Mavs fell to the Thunder in five games. He’ll now attempt to build on the success of this season, vowing to return as a better player in Year 2.
“It was a rookie year, for sure. I’m very appreciative of it. I’m appreciative of the ups and the downs,” Anderson said last month during his exit interview with the Dallas media. “I can think back to a couple of specific moments of going through what everyone tried to warn me about, but you never really understand until you get in the situation. But I’m just very appreciative for how this organization handled my development. They were always honest with me and I love that moving forward, knowing there’s a trust between the two. I’m just very excited to say that I finished an entire NBA season and also to be able to say that I went to the playoffs in my rookie season. I mean, that means a lot to me personally, growing up and watching the playoffs on all the different networks. You know, watching the greats play in the playoffs, it’s the toughest time of the year. But also hearing the stories of guys who haven’t been in the playoffs after five, six, seven or multiple years, that’s a pretty cool accomplishment. So, I’m just trying to take the positive things and roll with them into the summer, so I can get that good vibe and get ready to start training for another big season next year.”