Kenny Anderson: Not the Second Coming of Tiny, But Not Bad

Kenny Anderson: Not the Second Coming of Tiny, But Not Bad

January 24, 1999

   Antoine Walker has his new deal, his captaincy, and a ton of responsibility on his broad shoulders. Ron Mercer already is showing signs of being a keeper; and Paul Pierce has the resume, if not the results.

Those are the three building blocks for the future of the Boston Celtics. Rick Pitino and Chris Wallace say so. The three are young, gifted, athletic and, presumably, will improve with experience. Considering the new rules governing player salaries, there is legitimate hope that they will be around for a while to help turn things around in Boston.

However, perhaps even more important to the team's success in 1999 and the foreseeable future is Kenny Anderson. The 28-year-old point guard may not be adept at public relations, but he is indispensable to this team.

We didn't see much of Anderson last season, but what we saw was enough to tease us. He appeared in just 16 games, two of which were in-and-outers because of his left knee bruise. If you go by the other 14 games, you have to be excited.

"If he can play like last year, we've got something," Wallace said. "We need him. He needs us. He's enthusiastic. He's prepared himself. Those three young guys are our building blocks, but we hope Kenny comes along for the ride."

With Anderson reasonably healthy - he hurt the knee in his first game as a Celtic - Boston was 7-7. That's not particularly eye-opening, but look at what he did for the offense in general and Walker in particular:

Team Walker

FG% Pts. FG% Record

With Anderson 47.7 102.7 .503 7-7

Without Anderson 42.5 91.4 .407 29-39

Of course, the schedule had some bearing. Anderson joined the team on the tail end of its February Western swing and then came home to face such behemoths as Sacramento, Golden State, and Washington. But there also were games against Utah, Indiana, Houston, and New York.

The big unknowns about Anderson this year are his health and his ability to stay on the court. He played all 82 games in 1996-97 for the Trail Blazers, but last year's 61 games represented the fewest since his second year, when he fractured a wrist. Right now, Anderson looks as though he has bulked up, particularly in the upper body. He said his knee is fine.

If he stays healthy, he can average 38-40 minutes a game and the Celtics will score points and be entertaining. They will be hard to beat because of their many weapons. Walker will benefit. And it's not like we're talking Pervis Ellison here; Anderson is a gamer. But we're not talking A.C. Green either; of his seven seasons, only twice has he played in more than 72 games.

The health concerns are amplified by the defensive responsibilities Anderson will have to assume. Pitino was reluctant to press last year with Anderson; that cannot be the case this season. (Wallace said the team did a study that revealed the Celtics pressed only 28 percent of the time last year; that will happen when you shoot 43 percent.) Anderson has never been known for his defense and, despite his added girth, he still is only 6 feet 1 inch. And, as of now, he's basically all they have at what may be the most important position.

The depth chart at point guard consists of Anderson and Dana Barros, although the latter doesn't think of himself as a point guard. That's about it. Tyus Edney, who we all know was the truest, pre-Anderson point guard on the team, is not around. Rookie free agent Marlon Garnett is a combination project/insurance. (We can assume the Celtics will conjure up some debilitating ailment for him when rosters are cut to 12 two weeks into the season. Until that time, teams can carry 14 players.) Anderson, Barros, and Mercer are the only true veteran guards on the roster.

It's all there for Anderson, and he must relish the opportunity and run with it. He has been in an All-Star Game (1994) and in the playoffs (three times), but in many ways has been an underachiever as a pro. He's a career 41.4 percent shooter, his teams are 2-9 in postseason play, and this is his fourth NBA stop in seven seasons, fifth if you include his brief stay with Toronto.

He is at the stage of his career where he has security (four years left after this) and the coach's blessing, and he should have the desire to make a statement to all non-believers. He has an exciting collection of eager, young pups with which to play. He is a grizzled veteran on this young team. He also is in an enviable spot. It's one he has always wanted and one that will test him to the max. It may not be fair to put the fate of the team solely on him, but how he does will affect this team as much as, if not more than, any other player.

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