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Pacers bring back Justin Anderson on a 10-day to reward his play and help field a team
The 28-year-old forward missed all of last season due to injury. He's excelled in the G League and wants to show that he belongs in the NBA.
Justin Anderson was aboard a United plane bound for Newark Liberty International Airport on Wednesday when something memorable happened.
The Fort Wayne Mad Ants were headed to Toronto but because it’s the G League, they take commercial flights and it wasn’t nonstop. The team was at the back of the plane and passengers were being instructed to buckle their seatbelts.
However, the plane door had not been closed.
Head coach Tom Hankins got the attention of a flight attendant and asked if passengers could still get off. They could, so Hankins, who typically sits in the aisle seat beside Anderson, reached forward to tap him on his shoulder. “Get your stuff and get off,” Hankins instructed him.
“I was kind of confused,” Anderson recalled, “and looked back like, ‘What do you mean? What’s going on?’ He said the Pacers are signing you to a 10-day (contract). And it all made sense at that point.”
Anderson grabbed his belongings, then soon after received a call from Pacers general manager Chad Buchanan. “It was awesome to experience,” he said. “Something that I really have worked hard for this year. It was cool for it to happen the way that it did.”
After leading the G League in scoring this season (27.8 ppg) and being named G League Player of the Week for the past week (37.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 6 assists and 1.7 steals per game) while leading the Mad Ants to a 3-0 record, he was getting a meaningful call-up.
Anderson believes he put himself in a good position to earn a spot “where I think I belong,” he said. “And so now it’s an opportunity to show that.”
Earlier in the week, after the Pacers had just eight players available for their three-point loss in Atlanta, I reached out to a few people regarding Anderson and a possible Pacers move. They had one roster spot open after completing a buyout with center Tristan Thompson, who was acquired in the trade with Sacramento, at the All-Star break.
They’ve already been eliminated from the playoffs, have had over 300 player games lost this season due to injuries and it hasn’t gotten any better. One league source expected the Pacers to use the vacant roster spot to sign one of their two-way guys (Duane Washington Jr. and Terry Taylor) to a standard NBA deal.
And another source said this — and to be clear, it wasn’t his agent. “I don’t know what else Justin can do at the G League level to prove to teams he deserves to be back in the NBA.”
Anderson, 28, is looking to finally stick in the NBA, where he was drafted 21st overall in 2015 by the Dallas Mavericks — Rick Carlisle’s former team for 13 seasons. Since Anderson’s two seasons on the Mavs, he’s played for five other NBA teams, including the Pacers.
In late December, the Cavaliers first signed him to a 10-day contract via the hardship exception as hundreds of players tested positive for Covid-19. Once that expired, the Pacers signed him to a 10-day contract as well on Jan. 1. However, most fans probably don’t remember because the team announced it at the same time as fan favorite Lance Stephenson. (Fieldhouse Files subscribers learned about that here one day earlier.)
Then, Anderson’s 10-day was cut short because he tested positive for Covid seven days in.
“He’s been the best player on the team,” Carlisle said, “and probably the best player in the entire league. He’s earned this opportunity, he knows our stuff, he’s kept himself ready. And the one thing about him, he’s appreciative of the opportunity and he’s really fought for these chances to be back in the NBA.”
There’s a bond of familiarity and loyalty between Carlisle and Anderson. They were together in Dallas, both attended the University of Virginia and then before training camp in September, the Mad Ants completed a trade with Long Island to acquire Anderson.
“From a leadership position, he’s the first person that taught me how the NBA system is ran, how to work hard, how to be on time, how to be a professional consistently,” Anderson said. “Whatever he taught me at first, I took everywhere I’ve been since.
“He’s a tough coach. He’s somebody that’s going to coach you and that’s what I want. Especially in this day and age, a lot of guys — I don’t know if they want to be coached. They call it a player’s league or whatever the case may be, but coach is gonna get the best out of every guy one through 15.”
The Pacers’ frontline continues to be thin because of injuries. Myles Turner hasn’t played since mid-January, Isaiah Jackson is in the concussion protocol and then in Friday’s win in Houston, Jalen Smith went to the locker room late in the third quarter after absorbing a blow to the face from Christian Wood.
Anderson, a 6-foot-5 forward, is a utility guy who can defend and has been shooting 40 percent from 3-point range on 10 tries per game. Carlisle plans to play him at both the 3 and 4, but Anderson made clear he’s willing to help wherever.
“I’m just glad to be able to showcase anything,” he said. “You can put me at the 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. I just want to be out on the court, show my impact, show what I can bring. I’ve been biting at this for a long time. Unfortunately, injuries have kind of had me in and out of the NBA, but that’s over and done with. I only have two tibias and two legs, and both of those have been operated on and I’m back stronger than ever.”
He’s grateful to be back healthy, playing and in a familiar system. “I missed all of last season due to rehab,” he continued, “so I think it’s been an unbelievable season. It takes a village — my family, my girlfriend, it’s a lot of people who have been in my corner from Day 1.
“I just want to put myself in a position to stick long-term and I think it starts with these 10 days.”
After signing this 10-day on March 17, Anderson (wearing No. 10) will be with the Pacers for at least five games through March 26.
And this time, on that final day, he’ll be traveling home with the Pacers on their charter plane from Toronto and not catching a one-stop flight through Newark.