It took seven months for swingman Alan Anderson to make his season debut for the Washington Wizards, but it didn't take him long to display just what he can bring to the table in D.C. Anderson took the court for the first time in a Wizards uniform Feb. 24 and scored nine points during 16 minutes in a 109-104 road loss to the Chicago Bulls.
He signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Wizards last July. Along with fellow new additions Gary Neal and Jared Dudley, Anderson was added to revamp a bench unit that would help the Wizards implement a pace-and-space style of play. As has too frequently been the case for the Wizards this season, it didn't go according to plan.
The 33-year-old underwent surgery in October to remove a bone fragment in his left ankle, an unfortunate follow-up to a related procedure he had last May. Anderson missed the first 55 games of the season. He often traveled with the team and had been rumored to return for weeks. He practiced in full Feb. 22 but was inactive during the team's Feb. 23 victory against New Orleans. But he played against the Bulls, and he played well.
"It felt good to get out there and fight with them," Anderson said. "I just had to be patient and be ready. I didn't know how long I was going to play or when I was going to play."
Anderson's 16 minutes came in two chunks of playing time. His signature grit and toughness were on display when he aided a 11-0 run that stretched between the first and second quarters. He turned the ball over on his first touch near the rim but later converted a 3-point play on an up-and-under. The Wizards turned a four-point deficit into a five-point lead with Anderson on the floor.
He returned to the game late during the third quarter with Washington down 10 and later drained a corner 3-pointer to cut the deficit. In the fourth quarter, he dished a helper to point guard Ramon Sessions for an easy two, before drilling another 3-pointer from the top of the key to draw the Wizards within three. It forced Chicago to call timeout, as an animated Anderson met point guard John Wall in midair to celebrate what was his biggest (and thus far only) moment of the season.
"I was a lot better than I thought I would be," Anderson said. "I'm tired. But I thought I was going to be tired as soon as I walked on the floor."
The Wizards were plus-11 during Anderson's 16 minutes, easily the best mark on the team in what was a disappointing performance. Chicago was without point guard Derrick Rose and leading scorer Jimmy Butler, yet the Bulls still managed 109 points. Anderson finished the game with nine points on 3-of-4 shooting. He was 2-of-3 from downtown and added an assist and three boards.
Anderson also brings energy and toughness to a team that has lacked both this season. The Wizards have looked like a contender at times, but too frequently have dropped winnable games due to inconsistency or concentration lulls. They're now 3-2 after the All-Star break, with their defense keying all three victories. After yet another letdown, head coach Randy Wittman is hoping Anderson provides stability.
"For whatever reason, our focus is good for two and three games, and then it's gone," Wittman said. "He gives us some grit, some activity. Hopefully some of our guys watch that. Sometimes I don't know if they're on the floor."
The Wizards will have an opportunity to make up ground in the Eastern Conference standings during the next week, with three of their next four contests coming against cellar dwellers in Philadelphia and Minnesota. It's unclear what Wittman has planned for Anderson as the swingman begins to get his feet back under him, but his teammates are confident he can help.
"We know he's going to be competitive," Wall said. "He's always one of the most physical players out there. I think he did a great job his first game back; his defensive pressure, his intensity, just talking out there. He made some big shots for us to get back in the game. Once he gets more wind into him, he's going to be great for us. He's a big key."
The Wizards have added center J.J. Hickson, the team announced Feb. 25. Hickson spent the majority of the season in Denver but was released by the Nuggets earlier this week. He averaged 6.9 points and 4.4 rebounds in 20 games for Denver, starting nine games earlier in the season.
"Signing J.J. for the remainder of the season gives us another solid veteran who will bring more depth to our frontcourt," Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said. "His experience, athletic ability and physical presence will be solid additions to our team as we continue our playoff push."
The Wizards had an open roster spot and a need for another big man after shipping forwards Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair to Phoenix last week for newcomer Markieff Morris.