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Suns’ new forward Ryan Anderson is more of the immediate solution than a problem

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Anderson will stretch the floor for Phoenix Suns rookie Deandre Ayton and others

Houston Rockets v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns’ most expensive acquisition this summer may be a complete mystery to the locals beyond his reputation for taking (and making) the longest threes this side of Golden State.

All Suns fans see is an old-model stretch power forward whom the game has passed by.

It used to be a team’s dream to have a 6’10” guy with the sand in his bucket to box out for rebounds and the range to clear the paint on the other end. Except, that was a couple years ago, I guess.

This coming year, the Suns will be counting on the likes of new acquisition Ryan Anderson along with Trevor Ariza, Mikal Bridges and Devin Booker to force opponents to fear the Suns 3-point shooting and to make room for burly new center Deandre Ayton to operate down low.

Let’s take a look at how Anderson, who’s made 39% of his high-volume threes the last five seasons, has helped his teams in the past.

Break out 2011-12 season

Six years ago, the 23-year-old became the prototype power forward to create a “four-out” offense around the most dominant big man in the game, Dwight Howard. He averaged 16 points, making 39% of seven threes a game, and grabbed eight rebounds for Finals hopeful Orlando Magic.

Ryno was the league’s Most Improved Player, made the most three pointers in the ENTIRE LEAGUE (166 makes) and finished ninth in the whole NBA in Win Shares (8.9) in 61 games during the strike-shortened season. He was also sixth in the league in offensive rebounds.

But then, the Dwightmare happened, and Orlando began rebuilding in Howard’s wake as he forced his way out of town. We all know what happened to Dwight after that in LA LA Land, but what happened to Ryan Anderson?

Anderson was traded that summer too, because he was too much a “win-now” piece, and the Magic wanted a full rebuild.

So he went to the Hornets/Pelicans that summer in a sign-and-trade for big money.

NOLA

After leading the league with 116 makes in 2011-12 (in 61 games, remember), Anderson made 213 threes in 2012-13 sharing a front court with prize rookie Anthony Davis, and finished second overall in the league in makes over 81 games. Anderson did this — taking seven threes per game — while coming off the bench all but 22 times that year. He still played 31 minutes a game, though.

NOLA was going through a transition, including playing the strangely unhappy max player Eric Gordon (whose heart was in Phoenix, right?). Anderson averaged 16 points and six rebounds that year, coming off the bench behind starters AD, Al-Farouq Aminu and Robin Lopez, recently exiled from Phoenix.

Then, the bottom fell out. The next two years were awful for Anderson. Just pure awful.

First, his girlfriend committed suicide in August 2013, just two months before the 2013-14 season began. Coach Monty Williams spent time with Anderson, trying to get his mind right for the NBA season after the young forward found her and couldn’t save her life.

Anderson had moderate success (19 points per game on 41% three point shooting) but then, just 22 games into his season, he suffered a season-ending neck injury, and it all came crashing to an end.

22 games in 2013-14 and 61 heavy, plodding games in 2014-15 while feeling awful all the way through.

“I didn’t have my legs under me a lot, and it was hard.”

He had a bounce-back season with NOLA in 2015-16, averaging 17 points and six rebounds, giving coach Alvin Gentry’s team a boost as he entered free agency in the booming summer of 2016.

“In life, you’re going to go through something difficult. Maybe it’s not suicide but life is hard sometimes,” Anderson said a year later. “I have a perspective that’s so valuable now, and it makes things matter more. It measures the strength that you have.”

Houston

He was a free agent at the right time, signing a massive 4-year, $80 million contract with the Rockets that summer.

Anderson had a great first year in Houston, stretching the floor for Mike D’Antoni’s crazy new offense where they threw up 40 threes a game — 46% of their shots were three-pointers!!! 46%! And most of the rest were at the rim.

Houston won 55 games with the league’s third-ranked offense and 18th-ranked defense that year with James Harden as the primary ball handler. Anderson started 72 games in 2016-17, though he had a much lower usage rate than he did in NOLA, averaging “only” 11 shots a game (seven of them threes) while the Rockets had SIX players average at least 11.7 points per game.

Then Chris Paul came aboard to replace Patrick Beverley, and the Rockets rose to a new level, this time leaving Ryan Anderson behind, as they won 65 games this past year.

Anderson lost a bit of time to Gerald Green’s crazy shot-taking on the perimeter, and to the combination of Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker’s rabid defensive efforts, as the Rockets posted the league’s sixth-best defense.

Anderson’s minutes per game last year went down every month, from 32 in October to 11 in April, and then only averaged eight minutes per game in the playoffs.

Has the league passed Anderson by?

The way the Rockets, Warriors, Cavaliers and others in the playoffs showed us how smaller, active forward tandems can succeed in “today’s NBA,” you might think Ryan Anderson has no role anymore.

But just a year ago, Anderson was a big part of the league’s craziest offensive trend, and back in New Orleans when healthy, he was a huge part of their team as well, making space for big man Anthony Davis. And all the way back in Orlando, he stretched the floor for Dwight.

So maybe just maybe the 30-year old can help a team that needs an identity like the Suns do.

Maybe he, Ariza, Mikal Bridges and Devin Booker can create space for rookie Deandre Ayton and slashers Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren in a revamped Suns offense that actually has strengths that other teams have to gameplan for... wait, what am I saying? The Suns might have strengths?

Let’s see how it all goes.

But as far as I’m concerned, Ryan Anderson — in whatever role he earns — is part of a solution this year, not part of the problem.

And that’s a nice change of pace.

Let’s welcome Ryan to the valley!