Ryan Anderson has played some of the best basketball of his career this season. Injuries to Anthony Davis and others have left the Pelicans short on big men at times, so Anderson is seeing 36.1 minutes per contest, much more than he ever has. Anderson is averaging a career-high 21.4 points per game after returning from a chip fracture in a toe on his right foot that cost him the first two weeks of the season. Still, his name has been coming up in Omer Asik trade rumors since the summer, and the latest dispatch links him to the Grizzlies in a proposed swap for Zach Randolph.
The Pelicans don’t appear willing to go along with either deal, indicating that rival teams have much more interest in trading for Anderson than New Orleans has in letting him go. GM Dell Demps committed a four-year, $34MM contract to the 6’10” power forward as part of a sign-and-trade in the summer of 2012, just days after the Pelicans drafted Davis. There has been plenty of skepticism since then about the ability of Anderson and Davis to coexist on the floor, since they both seem to fit best at the four spot.
The pairing shared the floor for just 11.4 minutes per game in contests for which they were both active last season, per NBA.com, and opponents outscored the Pelicans by 10.3 points per 100 possessions with Anderson and Davis both in the game. That stat has pulled a 180-degree turn this season. Not counting the Unibrow’s comeback appearance on Tuesday after breaking his hand a few weeks ago, New Orleans has outscored other teams by that same margin of 10.3 points per 100 possessions with the two in the lineup. Anderson has only shared the floor with Davis for a total of 136 minutes over eight games this year thanks to their injuries, but that works out to an average of 17.0 MPG together, a higher rate than last year.
The 6’10” Anderson is a much different player than Davis is, perhaps suggesting their games can complement each other. Anderson led the league in three-pointers made and attempted in 2011/12, when he won the Most Improved Player of the Year award with the Magic. Davis has attempted just six three-pointers in his career, missing all of them. Almost half of Davis’s shot attempts last season came within three feet of the rim, according to Basketball-Reference.com. The Pelicans have been a significantly better defensive team when Anderson has been on the bench the past two seasons, as NBA.com shows, and Davis, drafted as a defensive whiz, is ostensibly around to make up for that.
Coach Monty Williams clearly has some reservations about playing Anderson and Davis together, since it’s not a combination he uses too often. Still, considering the commitment the team has made to both and its reluctance to trade Anderson, it appears as though the plan is for them to share the floor a lot more often. Until the team sees how they mesh in significant minutes together, I’d be surprised if New Orleans traded Anderson. It nonetheless appears there are other clubs that might be high enough on the sharpshooting power forward to make an overwhelming offer to Demps, judging by Anderson’s continued appearance in rumors.
The Pelicans are by no means a finished product, and they have holes at center, unless Williams slots Davis into that position, and small forward. Presuming that Davis returns to the starting lineup at power forward once he’s 100%, that would leave the team with about $20MM tied up in Anderson and Tyreke Evans, both of whom would be reserves. That sort of roster imbalance is difficult to overcome.
Sixers small forward Evan Turner and center Spencer Hawes have been in trade rumors of late, so perhaps there’s a Philadelphia option for the Pelicans. Turner and Hawes are both in contract years, and it might be difficult for Demps to relinquish an asset under team control through 2015/16, as Anderson is, for a pair of soon-to-be free agents. Still, the Pelicans would have the right to match offers for Turner, and they’d have full Bird rights on both players. Hawes, a 43.6% three-point shooter this season, could replace some of Anderson’s floor spacing. The Nuggets, once Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee return from injury, might make sense as a trade partner, too, given their glut of frontcourt players and the possibly expendable Wilson Chandler. Still, such ideas are just my speculation.
The Pelicans are certainly in no hurry to rid themselves a player who’s continually improving, so It will probably take an offer that clearly benefits New Orleans to entice Demps to make a deal. Still, the Pelicans are just 11-13 after beginning the season with aspirations of a playoff spot. If the return of Davis can’t spark a turnaround by the February 20th trade deadline, Demps could have the motivation necessary for him to fix a flawed roster. There’s no guarantee that Anderson would be the centerpiece of any significant discussions the Pelicans might have with other teams, but it seems there would be plenty of executives around the league willing to listen if that were the case.