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Wolves appreciate the near-comprehensive competence of ‘Slo Mo’ Kyle Anderson


The arms of Kyle Anderson often seem akin to the tentacles of an octopus. There are only two of them, of course, but they dangle down forever, too long to easily pinpoint their joints, down to the knees of his 6-foot, 9-inch frame. And while there are no suction cups embedded in the epidermis, Anderson possesses a marvelous grasp, physically and mentally, for using them to direct the basketball where he wants it to go. 

But what Anderson’s appendages have most in common with those of his inky prototype is the mesmerizing pace of their movement. Set amid the frantic tempo of pro hoops, he seems to perform with an amiable amble more common to those who are underwater. Some of that effect is due to his long limbs, but some of it stems from his hyper-awareness and intuitive, exacting calibration. Anderson can be an exceedingly patient playmaker. He will pounce on an obvious opportunity but otherwise waits for his options to develop into more clear-cut choices before executing a decision. 

This unorthodox style has defined Anderson’s game since he was a teenager in AAU ball and opponents unaware of his identity stuck a nickname on him that he has never shed: Slo Mo. 

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The coming out party — trumping the Jazz on Saturday night

Less than a third of the way through his first NBA season with the Minnesota Timberwolves (and ninth overall), Slo Mo was provided with a chance to fully showcase his unique, versatile skill set for his new team over the past two weeks while taking over from injured All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns in the starting lineup. In a season that has been defined by disappointment and underachievement, it has been a delightfully eye-opening display. 

The peak potpourri of what Slo Mo brings to the table were arrayed across the four quarters of last Saturday night’s win over the Jazz in Utah. The banquet of highlights began on the Wolves very first possession, when Anderson spun right-shoulder at the foul line for a jump-pass to center Rudy Gobert, who had effectively sealed his man and slam-dunked. Two minutes later, he ran a high pick-and-roll in the left slot with Gobert, drawing three defenders as he toddled with his dribble to the foul line and, at the last minute, executed the mechanics of a floater — except it was a perfect lob that Gobert again slammed through the hoop.  

Through three periods Anderson had stuffed the stat sheet: He had 12 points on 3-for-4 from the field and 6-for-7 at the line, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and a steal in 23 minutes. But in the third quarter the Jazz had steadily whittled a 15-point deficit into a tie, and the Wolves were up by only three heading into the final stanza. Over the next 12 minutes, Slo Mo was a playmaker par excellence.

He fed Gobert for another alley-oop, the fourth of five dimes he doled out to the big man that night. With the defense thus sagging on Gobert, he mimed the same floater-action as his first-period assist, only pushed it a little farther so it splashed into the hoop. 

Then came the tsunami of Anderson-enabled three-pointers — five of them over a 5:18 span, four of them to a red-hot D’Angelo Russell. Slo Mo clinically dissected the zone defense Utah had been using to stymie the Wolves. Most frequently he moved into a calm eye of the swirl, the soft spot of the zone near the foul line, where he could survey whether Gobert was open at the hoop, his teammates were breaking free on the perimeter, or the defense was daring him to shoot. 

When it was over, he had a career-high 12 assists, 7 in that fourth quarter.  DLo was the obvious hero with 20 fourth-quarter points, but he took pains to note that, “I been knowing Slo for a little bit now, and am a big fan of his game. It is super effective.” He praised Anderson as a great facilitator, “a tall point guard” whose court IQ enables him to take advantage of “things you don’t really see on the scout sheets.” That playmaking “takes me off the ball and allows me to be the scorer when we need it,” DLo emphasized. 

Coach Chris Finch agreed, noting that “the key (to the win) was that we moved the ball pretty well and opened up some gaps. We got the ball to Kyle in the high post and he is such a great decision-maker  — he found Rudy, he found DLo a bunch of times.” 

Then Finch pivoted to Slo Mo’s versatility, citing a key block Anderson had made after Utah grabbed an offensive rebound and fed streaking Jazz big man Kelly Olynyk going up for a dunk at a key point late in the game. “That was huge, along with the playmaking that got into the heart of the defense at will. He is an incredible player,” Finch raved, “because you can literally play him at all five positions.”

A cherished asset 

Using most of the Wolves’ mid-level exception to the salary cap to sign Anderson to a 2-year, $18 million contract last summer was a priority for the team that was quickly overshadowed by the blockbuster trade for Gobert. When I interviewed Finch in September, he envisioned exactly the sort of key playmaking that Slo Mo flashed on Saturday night. 

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“Having spacing around a guy like Rudy is not just having shooters. If you have someone with ball skills, who can do something with it — I mean, we can also play Kyle as a point guard in that lineup and put DLo off the ball.” 

When I noted that Anderson was going to be really important in the Wolves plans for the 2022-23 season, Finch said Very! before I could finish the sentence. 

“We picked him up (even) before we decided to do the trade (for Gobert). We just knew that this guy fills so many gaps. He’s got great size, and he is mature, and he is a good leader and he is quiet in the way you need and want mature players to be. And he’s serious. There was just literally nothing that wasn’t highly valued about him.” 

Three months later, the coach’s enthusiasm hasn’t waned. Asked again about the Utah win in his pregame presser before playing Portland on Sunday, Finch talked about how astute and timely Slo Mo’s contributions were. “When we needed him to get a bucket, get the line, find the open guy, he did it. We thought he would be like this, a five-tool player, and he has been that and more.”

This continually high-level of gushing risks becoming fulsome. But anyone who has watched the Wolves flail as often as flourish, delivering inconsistency in both effort and execution to an exasperating degree, will have a greater appreciation for what a balm Anderson has been thus far this season. 

Prior to joining the Wolves, he spent four seasons apiece with the Spurs in San Antonio and the Grizzlies in Memphis, two franchises with strong winning cultures and an emphasis on gritty fundamental teamwork. By contrast, what the Wolves have shown through the first 27 games is an inability to sustain synergy. There is phenomenal high-end talent on the roster, but not as much of the skills that glue and caulk those abilities into a binding formula for winning. 

In both San Antonio and Memphis, Slo Mo was asked to take on different roles and assume a different place in the pecking order not only from season-to-season, but occasionally month-to-month. In San Antonio he came off the bench until the fourth and final season. In Memphis, the number of games he started over a four-year span were 40, 28, 69 and 11, respectively. 

And so it has been in Minnesota. The grand experiment currently underway is pairing All-Star centers KAT and Gobert in the same frontcourt, which leaves Slo Mo on the bench to start the game unless one of the bigs are injured — putting all three together at the same time would be too slow. Thus, Anderson has started 7 of 27 contests, including 5 of the last 6 following KAT’s injury. 

The Wolves had a won-lost record of 10-11 when KAT went down and have been 3-3 since. While replacing the All-Star who is signed to a supermax contract for the next four seasons after this one, the mid-level-money Anderson has been tied for first on the team in assists, is second in blocks, third in minutes, tied for third in steals, is sixth in points and ranks behind only super-sub point guard Jordan McLaughlin in net rating, which measures how well the team performs when you are on the court compared to when you are off it. 

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Flexible delivery, no drama

What makes this multifaceted performance even more impressive is that, whereas most high-caliber players are put in roles that are tailored to fit their strengths, Slo Mo is slotted into roles tailored to bolster where the team needs to be stronger. If DLo is feeling it as a shooter, then Anderson will facilitate his catch-and-shoot opportunities and pick up more of the onus of feeding Gobert inside. If DLo has it going on the pick-and-roll with Gobert, Anderson will be a prime outlet for three-point shooting from the corner. (Slo Mo leads the Wolves in long-range accuracy, having made a career-high 43.5% of his treys thus far this season. As a team, Minnesota ranks 25th in the 30-team NBA at 33.4%.)

Slo Mo reacts to these changing roles with the same preternatural calmness in which he operates on the court. Asked about becoming the designated “corner three,” he ruefully remembered the season in San Antonio when that was his predominant duty. But it was good-natured; there wasn’t — and isn’t — any doubt that he’ll accept his assignment with a wealth of effort and experience and an absence of drama. 

Fortunately, he regards being the “glue guy” or “Swiss army knife” as a joy instead of a hardship. He’s not a scold: Asked if he had to choose between aggressive clueless teammates or passive knowledgeable teammates, he’d opt for aggression. And his voice is filled with warmth and excitement describing what it is like to share the floor with two transition-oriented, shoot-first banshees like Anthony Edwards and Jaylen Nowell. 

Now in his ninth NBA season, Slo Mo continues to refine his distinctive modus operandi, flummoxing his more often younger and more athletic foes by disrupting their rhythms with his deliberate pace and taking less obvious, more planful angles to get the ball or his feet wherever he wants them to go. Occasionally he’ll wait too long and the options won’t open — he’ll be left in mid-air making a weak, last-second pass. And occasionally, especially earlier in the season, he’ll “overhelp” filling a perceived void on defense, usually mistaken in his assumption that a teammate will retain the chain and fill in for him. 

In a few weeks, KAT will return and the grand experiment will necessarily pick up close to where it left off. The amount of time and treasure invested in making this KAT-Gobert pairing work demands it. Slo Mo will return to the bench, ever-ready for his next assignment, for his next opportunity to impress and occasionally dazzle true students of the game with his near-comprehensive competence. 

It will all be taken one, slow, effective, step, at, a, time.


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