Alan Anderson’s path from Michigan State to a long-term spot on an NBA roster has been a long and winding one, filled with stops in exotic places such as Croatia and Israel. The epitome of a journeyman, Anderson has learned a lot on his way to becoming a key contributor for the Toronto Raptors this season.
The Minneapolis native began his Spartan career in 2001, coming to East Lansing from DeLaSalle High School. Anderson averaged 21.2 points per game in his senior season, earning a number of honors, such as the 2001 Minneapolis/ St. Paul Metro Player of the Year. Anderson quickly made his impact at Michigan State. Averaging 6.2 points per game as a freshman, he continued to develop his talent on offense. But surprisingly, the youngster proved why his defense was his true calling card. Anderson posted solid numbers on defense, as his 130 rebounds (3rd on the team) and 4.2 rebounds per game (4th) earned him MSU’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors, a title he shared with Kelvin Torbet.
Anderson increasingly became a key cog in the Spartan machine during his sophomore season. The squad’s second-leading scorer with 9.8 points per game, Anderson’s effort was enough to earn his teammates’ vote for Michigan State’s Co-MVP award. He was named a team captain before his junior season, an honor he justified by leading the Spartans to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in his three seasons at MSU.
The Spartan star outdid himself in his senior year. Notching 13.2 points per game during his final season in East Lansing, Anderson led the Spartans deep into the NCAA Tournament. The senior guard guided Michigan State past Old Dominion and Vermont, as well as perennial contenders Duke and Kentucky, all the way into the Final Four. But in what would be his last game as a Spartan, Anderson had an off night in North Carolina’s 87-71 triumph over Michigan State. With the loss, Anderson’s exciting Spartan career was over.
Despite his impressive senior campaign, Anderson was not drafted into the NBA. Instead, the NBA’s newest team, the Charlotte Bobcats (formed only a season before), signed Anderson as a free agent. The rookie saw limited time, only averaging 15 minutes per game in the 36 games in which he played. In his second year in the NBA, Anderson had marginal results, averaging 5.8 points per game for the second consecutive season. Charlotte waived him in late November of 2006, leaving the young Anderson out of work.
The Bobcats brought him back in the middle of March of 2007, but Anderson only saw sporadic playing time. At the end of the season, the former Michigan State stud was out of the NBA. For many players, this would be the end. However, Anderson’s persistence would grant him another opportunity, but only after a long journey spanning many countries and continents.
Anderson’s passion to pursue his career took him all over the world. In his quest to find a way to the NBA, Anderson travelled to Israel, Russia, China, Spain, Italy and Croatia. And despite sojourns with numerous NBA D-League teams, Anderson was not given a second chance in the NBA until late March of 2012. Finally, after five years of wandering, he was given a golden opportunity to return to the big leagues by the Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors only signed Anderson to a 10-day contract, giving the MSU alum little time to prove himself. In his first few games, Anderson was not given many opportunities to do so. But on the ninth day of the contract, he was given the chance he had been waiting over five years for. In 31 minutes of floor time against the 76ers on April 4th, Anderson shot five of seven from the field, including three of four from behind the arc, good for 13 points. Toronto was impressed enough to give him another 10-day contract. Anderson proved that his performance wasn’t a fluke, scoring ten or more points in the six games played during the contract period. Satisfied with Anderson’s play, the Raptors signed him for the remainder of the season.
Anderson did not disappoint. Given significant playing time, he did well in the remaining games, especially in the season finale. In a matchup with the New Jersey Nets to end the season, Anderson made his lasting mark. The shooting guard lit up from three, nailing five of nine shots from behind the arc. Anderson wound up with 20 points in 45 minutes of playing time, enough to convince the Raptors to bring him back in 2012-13.
Signing Anderson to a one-year deal in the summer of 2012, the Raptors envisioned him as a solid replacement off the bench. Early in the season, Anderson was just that, a player coming off the bench who saw varying amounts of time. Then he suffered a sprained ankle, which kept him out of the picture for a month. After Anderson returned from the injury, it seemed as if he would return to his designated role as a bench player. But on a fair mid-December Sunday in Toronto, Anderson at last had his breakout performance. In one of his best games as a pro, the former Spartan notched an NBA career-high 24 points.
Still, many players can have one good game. Countless pros had one stellar day but failed to match the performance. Anderson would quickly prove this was not the case. The guard’s point totals reached double digits in each of his next six games. In the eight games following Anderson’s return, the previously comatose Raptors came back to life, going 7-1 in that span.
After one of the victories during Toronto’s hot streak, head coach Dwayne Casey praised Anderson in an interview with the Toronto Sun. “He’s a veteran guy and he’s hungry. The young man has been to China, Europe, got cut and had his back against the wall, so that’s why I like him,” Casey explained. “He’s the underdog and plays like an underdog. That’s the way you have to play in this league.”
The Raptors have slowed down since the New Year, splitting a four-game home stretch. Anderson, though, has not missed a beat. He again reached the 20 point mark in a loss to the Kings and also set a new NBA career-high for points, scoring 27 in a loss to the Thunder. Anderson has earned well-deserved praise from his teammates and coaches.
Even an old friend, his coach at Michigan State, Tom Izzo, had compliments for the emerging NBA player. “He’s making shots, he’s taking it to the hole. He’s doing a little bit of everything and is probably even shooting it better. He really worked on his shooting and became a better shooter,” Izzo recently told the media. “Going to Europe his last year, I guess he really played well over there. Talking to some of our guys who played against him or watched him over there, he was really playing well.”
For a long time, it was Anderson’s defensive skills that set him apart. But in his return to the NBA, his offensive spark has been the ticket to Anderson’s success. So far in the 2012-13 season, Anderson is averaging 11.8 points per game, a significantly better number than he achieved in his previous stint in the NBA. The guard’s offensive game has shown remarkable improvement since the Bobcats decided not to resign the youngster in 2007.
The rise of the former Spartan star holds a well-kept secret, however. Anderson’s improvement on offense and consistency on defense, while important, are not the real reasons for the 30-year old’s return to prominence. The new aggressiveness in Anderson’s game explains why his second stint has been more successful than the first. Playing the style that he does “makes it a lot easier for you, offensively and defensively,” Anderson explained to hoopsworld.com. “There’s a way to be selfish if you take too many shots, so I just take what’s given to me. When I’m open I try to knock them down and when I’m not, I try to create and make things happen and make my teammates better. Defensively, I just try to get after it and don’t take any possessions off.”
Anderson’s aggressive style has given opponents something to remember him by. For most, the hard-working veteran coming off of the bench came out of nowhere. Many still do not know of the little-known shooting guard who is trying to make the most of his second chance in the NBA. Anderson is attempting to change that. “Nobody really knew about me, nobody followed me overseas,” he said. “For the people that watched me and knew about me throughout my career it’s not really a surprise, but nobody knew about Alan Anderson, knew about where he came from or what he did. I’m trying to change that now.”
Anderson has succeeded at this task within the Raptors organization. His teammates and coaches have taken notice of the 30-year old’s maturity. “He is a leader. He is talking to everybody, telling everybody what to do,” Toronto head coach Dwayne Casey said. “Defensively, offensively, he is communicating. He has the guys’ respect. Even though he doesn’t have a lot of service years in the league, he is older, mature, he is an old soul.”
The talented Minneapolis native surely has the skills to be a force in the NBA for the considerable future. Every NBA coach craves the hunger and passion Anderson shows every time he steps out on the court. While there are never any guarantees, the man who fiercely battled for a second chance in the NBA is not afraid of the uncertain future. “I’ve been in all different types of positions. Europe, D-League,” Anderson said. “You’ve got to have confidence in yourself, you’ve got to be in the right situation. Every second you’re out there, you’ve got to make it [as if it’s] your last.”