In some ways, James Anderson is in an NBA dream — part of a great organization playing championship-level basketball, competing on one of only four teams remaining in the playoffs.
But in other ways, Anderson is stuck in a professional hooper's nightmare — the 11th man in a nine-man rotation, good enough to be yelled at by Gregg Popovich but inconsistent enough to rarely receive meaningful minutes.
And that's why, when all eyes are fixed on the compelling San Antonio-Oklahoma City Western Conference Finals, Anderson is much like the players on the other 26 NBA rosters, reduced to an interested spectator, hoping to one day become a key component of such a pivotal series.
The only difference is Anderson has a courtside ticket and nice Spurs warm-up.
“I'm not frustrated,” Anderson said at a recent shootaround. “I'm just being patient, and I know my time will come. I'm still working. It's not my time right now, so I'm just doing my work and supporting the team.”
When asked, he's quick to admit that things haven't panned out as expected.
After averaging 22.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals during an impressive junior season, leading Oklahoma State to the NCAA Tournament and winning Big 12 Player of the Year, Anderson decided to skip his senior year and enter the draft.
Seemed like the obvious choice. He was an athletic 6-foot-6 shooting guard toying with Division I defenses and appearing early on most mock drafts.
A pre-draft hamstring injury set him back, but a slight slip to the Spurs at 20th overall wasn't exactly an unfortunate scenario. Guaranteed money and an organization known for developing players.
“You can't ask for a better team to learn from,” Anderson said. “There's not a better organization to help you become a professional.”
But a nagging stress fracture in his right foot forced Anderson to miss 56 games during his rookie season.
And on the Spurs, with their ocean-deep rotation that has even gobbled up former starter DuJuan Blair and exiled him to the end of the bench, you can get lost quickly.
“We got some of the best players on this team, and it's tough,” Anderson said. “You got to fight through a lot to get minutes and it happened the way it happened. I can't complain.”
But giving up on Anderson so quickly would be naive.
He's a recently turned 23-year-old with an NBA body, smooth jumper and diverse offensive game. There's a place for him in this league. He's just trying to find it.
“The good thing about James, every time he gets in the game, we call him instant offense,” forward Stephen Jackson said. “As soon as he gets in the game, he makes a difference and he scores.”
But for now, Anderson will have to continue featuring that skill set in practices and blowouts, happily soaking in the experience and atmosphere that comes as a glorified spectator in the Western Conference Finals.
“It's just a numbers game, that's how it is in the NBA,” Jackson said. “We've all been through it. I've been through it in my career. You just got to wait your turn. He'll be great, but we are a deep team. When his opportunity comes, I'm sure he will take full advantage.”