UCLA’s Anderson piques Suns’ interest as ‘a player’

Kyle Anderson averaged 14.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and 6.5 assists as a sophomore at UCLA while making 48 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Gary A. Vasquez/Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

PHOENIX — Any player accessorized with the nickname "Slo-Mo" doesn’t exactly seem like draft bait for the lickety-splitting Suns.

And despite leading the league in fast-break points, first-year coach Jeff Hornacek often seemed vexed because he wanted his team to play even faster.

So why in the world were the Suns interested in an up-close look at UCLA sophomore Kyle Anderson? Well, amateur NBA personnel judges only can pretend to understand the talent-acquisition schemes of general manager Ryan McDonough.

Last summer, position-obsessed basketball skeptics were wondering why the Suns would acquire Eric Bledsoe with Goran Dragic already on the payroll.

Having McDonough around, fans have been alerted to the notion that talent frequently trumps convention.

It also should be noted that Anderson — who headlined Monday morning’s six-player, pre-draft workout on the U.S. Airlines Center practice court — actually works pretty well when a quicker pace is required.

Anderson, who had to catch a flight immediately after Monday’s workout and was unavailable for comment, was joined at Monday’s session by college teammate Travis Wear, forwards C.J. Fair of Syracuse, Mike Moser of Oregon and LaQuinton Ross of Ohio State and guard Justin Cobbs of California.

More Suns

While at UCLA, he had the keys to an offense that ranked 13th nationally for efficiency and a sort-of-chipper 50th — out of 351 teams — in tempo.

"He plays a little slower . . . he has played a little slower," McDonough admitted of Anderson’s personal approach, "but not everybody’s going to lead the break.

"A skill he showed here today was just getting a rebound and kicking ahead on the break and having the wings run under it in transition."

At 6-foot-8 1/2, the first-team All-Pac-12 selection is one of those hybrid players that can defy categorization. In his second season at UCLA, he initiated the offense, creating scoring opportunities for teammates or used his crafty ballhandling to reach the paint and shoot over shorter defenders.

On defense, he often worked against the college interpretation of power forwards. His lack of lateral quickness was less of an issue for a UCLA team that spent considerable time in a zone defense.

For the Suns, figuring out how a prospect might fit in becomes easier when one very important variable is established.

"I think he’s a basketball player," McDonough said.

Right, the former New Jersey high school hotshot has reached the level of first-round draft prospect (he’s projected anywhere from the early teens to the late 20s) by relying on skill and savvy in a basketball world saturated with more explosive athletes.

"He’s extremely skilled at that size," McDonough said of Anderson, who has a wingspan of 7-2 3/4. "He’s very long. He has a unique passing ability and feel for the game that sets him apart. He also rebounds very well, especially for a perimeter guy. It’s a unique package."

OK, so the narrative vis-à-vis Anderson’s development will be determined by how he performs in a match-up heavy league. On offense, if called upon to initiate a set or attack in transition, Slo-Mo may be required to handle the ball against smaller players with superior quickness and leverage.

2014 NBA Draft

If he’s able to advance the ball quickly enough to leave sufficient operating time on the shot clock, Anderson’s next test will involve his ability to punish those smaller defenders on the low post.

As a collegian, his numbers (14.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and 6.5 dimes as a sophomore) included mediocre scoring efficiency near the rim. As a transition finisher, Anderson’s vertical limitations resulted in 39-percent shooting during this particular facet of the game.

But he did improve his 3-point accuracy a whopping 27.2 percent (to 48.3 from an icy 21.1) in his second season at UCLA by refining his technique and remaining selective (just 58 attempts).

His fit potential in Phoenix may seem dicey due to a history of doing almost all of his damage with the ball in his mitts. Although his deep-shooting improvement is encouraging, Anderson doesn’t exactly evoke images of a candidate to spot up while Dragic and/or Bledsoe bite into the defense off the bounce. He shot the ball off the bounce twice as often as he did in catch-and-shoot situations.

Hornacek doesn’t limit his offensive options to one player who can operate behind a ball screen. Anderson could become an asset in generating dribble penetration from a forward position if the initial pick-and-roll salvo fails or is used as misdirection.

And shooting is a skill that’s easier to upgrade than the capacity to put the ball on the floor and get somewhere important.

P.J. Tucker hardly qualified as a deadeye marksman, either, but — like Anderson’s long-range improvement at UCLA — did find his happy place with the corner 3.

But Anderson is far below Tucker’s caliber as a perimeter defender.

And that end of the match-up-predicament equation also will be considered as teams estimate his value.

"Defensively, I think he’s better off guarding the wing guys early in his career," McDonough said. "But he does have the length and intelligence to kind of back off and measure guys and contest shot with that length on the perimeter."

Truly wise NBA teams usually understand that zeroing in on what a prospect can do well is a much better method of evaluation than ruminating on potential problems. While it’s true that any team employing Anderson must figure out who he can guard, he does arrive with a marketable skill.

"Obviously, it’s a huge advantage if you can be 6-9 and make great passes,"  Hornacek said. "What we wanted to see was the speed of him getting up and down the court. Can he play the 1 (point guard)? If he has a little, quick guy that guards him, can he get it up the court?

"We saw some of that today. He knows how to hesitate and use head fakes and that kind of stuff to get the ball up the court. He’s an intriguing player because of that size."

Follow Randy Hill on Twitter