The Toronto Raptors entered the 2012-2013 season with plenty of question marks for storylines. How would prized rookie Jonas Valanciunas respond to life in the NBA? Could Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry – two capable starting point guards – co-exist on the same roster? Would Andrea Bargnani finally be ready to play both ends of the floor and co-lead the Raptors offence like he did for parts of last season?
Some of those questions have been answered already; some would be unfair to answer at this point, but one storyline that perhaps wasn’t expected to biggest headline grabber yet has been an essential part of the Raptors turnaround over the last month or so has been the play of the team’s bench. Specifically Alan Anderson.
Anderson scored a career-high 27 points in the Raptors 104-92 loss Sunday afternoon and since returning from injury in the middle of December the 30-year-old has consistently put up double digits on offence. He's averaging 12 points per game and is shooting close to 36 per cent from three-point range.
Anderson is a basketball journeyman. The Raptors may be just his second NBA team, but the Minnesota native who played his entire four-year college career at Michigan State has made many stops in leagues overseas including stints in Russia, Israel and Croatia as well as several appearances with NBA D-League teams.
Last season the Raptors signed him to two separate 10-day contracts and after proving his worth the team re-signed him to a one-year deal over the summer.
He told Sportsnet.ca in November:
"With playing so many different places I've learned that you're only going to go as much as you take care of your body. What you put in your body is going to show, how you take care of your body is everything. Treat it great and it'll try to treat you great. I have to stretch, I have to ice, I have to eat right. I have to do everything before I do anything.
They [teammates] always mess with me, say I'm the last one here, but that's fine with me. As long as I wake up the next day and I don't get up like some of the other guys, feeling sore, I'm fine. As long as I'm doing everything I can to get ready for the next day, that's all I'm worried about."
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has also praised Anderson’s play this season. After pouring in 16 points in a Raptors win over Detroit on December 19th – Toronto’s fourth in a row at the time – Casey referred to Anderson as the team’s voice of reason.
Toronto’s coach told 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. He’s the underdog and plays like an underdog. That’s the way you have to play in this league. No one owes you anything. You have to play hungry and desperate.”
Anderson will never be the face of the Raptors franchise, but he’s established his role within the team’s lineup and could be a key figure for the team going forward. His type of production off the bench and leadership is what will help the Raptors continue to climb out of a hole they dug themselves into way too early in the season.
With eight wins in their last 11 games the Raptors now sit 4.5 games back of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. With a stretch of in-conference games coming up against team’s in or just outside of the playoff picture the Raptors have an opportunity to continue their climb back into the playoff race and big numbers from Anderson and other Raptors coming off the bench would surely help.