Earlier this season, the inexplicable on-court struggles just kept coming for Justin Anderson.
At times, it seemed as though the Dallas Mavericks’ second-year forward couldn’t get out of his own way. But comforting one-on-one talks with his coaches and some of his teammates have apparently settled Anderson to the point where he’s been a vital contributor to the Mavericks in the past week.
Anderson has enjoyed the best three-game stretch of his young career. The Virginia product has produced 47 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and four steals in 60 minutes of play, and has made13 of 30 shots from the field and 6 of 16 from 3-point range.
That’s a tad better than Anderson’s breakout performance as a rookie last season during Games 3-5 of the Mavericks’ first-round playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. In those three games, he totaled 36 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals in 62 minutes.
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Guard J.J. Barea is one of the players who stepped in to help lift Anderson’s spirits and get him back on the right track.
“J.J. said his first two-three years he sat on the bench so much in a suit that his boys joked about getting his number and his last name engraved on the back of it,” Anderson said. “And I was like, ‘Dang, J. J., you moved on to win a championship and you moved on to be one of the most consistent players off the bench in the league.’
“It just continues to motivate me.”
Forward Harrison Barnes has also taken up residency in Anderson’s ear and tried to motivate him to reach greater heights.
“I had a decent rookie year, played well in the playoffs, and when it came to my second year I was coming off the bench,” Barnes said. “I was struggling for the majority of my second year and people were ready to write me off and saying I wasn’t as good as they thought I was.
“And I told him it’s just a process and just continue to stick with it, continue to get better, just because you’re one moment away from stepping in and having a big moment and changing the rest of your career.”
J.J. said his first two-three years he sat on the bench so much in a suit that his boys joked about getting his number and his last name engraved on the back of it.
Mavericks forward Justin Anderson, on the support of teammate J.J. Barea
That “big moment” for Anderson came Sunday when he scored a career-high-tying 19 points in just 16 minutes against the Los Angeles Lakers. He followed that with 11 points in 20 minutes Wednesday against the New York Knicks and 17 points in 24 minutes Thursday against the Thunder.
Anderson is appreciative of the stories of struggles his teammates shared with him.
“Just because you need to hear stories to keep going,” he said. “You just need to know that you’re not the only person that’s going through something, and once I realized that I’m not the only person in this situation that really helps me out.
“So it means a lot when guys come up to me and they tell me their stories.”
The Mavericks (16-30), who next play Sunday at San Antonio, expect Anderson to be that emotional player who late last season supplied them with energy off the bench and throughout the playoffs. But that hadn’t consistently happened this season — until the past three games.
He works out before the games, after the games, and that hard work is starting to pay off for him.
Mavericks assistant coach Melvin Hunt, on Justin Anderson
“He’s been up and down, and I think coach [Rick] Carlisle has done a really good job of empowering him and at the same time kind of bringing him back,” assistant coach Melvin Hunt said. “We’re kind of molding him, and we’re trying to help this kid grow, and he is.
“I don’t know if you guys even know this, but after games his workout starts. He works out before the games, after the games, and that hard work is starting to pay off for him.”
Owner Mark Cuban noticed vast improvements in Anderson’s long-range game, and said that only Dirk Nowitzki and Seth Curry are shooting better from 3-point range than Anderson.
“When Justin has his feet set he’s one of the most dangerous 3-point shooters we have,” Cuban said. “We have internal analytics that track all the shooting that guys do, and he’s up there in the top three all the time with 3-point shooting.
“When he’s just catches and shoots with his feet set, he’s money.”
15.7 Average points per game for Justin Anderson in the last three games.
Overall, Anderson averages 7.2 points and 3.2 rebounds in just 15.4 minutes per game. He also is shooting 31.5 percent from on 3-point attempts, up from last season’s mark of 26.5 percent.
More important, Anderson hopes to continue building off his success of the past three games.
“I don’t want to sell myself short,” he said. “I still think that I can be a really great player in this league, but I think it’s going to take a lot of hard work.
“I think [the early-season struggles] may be the best thing that’s happened to me in my career. All we can do is wait and just keep working hard, push through it and hopefully one day it’ll all pay off.”