WESTWEGO — Ryan Anderson is entering his fifth NBA season, with just one as a regular starter.
In New Orleans, that’s enough to make him a grizzled veteran.
On a day that saw seventh-year guard Jarrett Jack traded away, Anderson became the most tenured player under contract with the Hornets. And just like the incoming crop of draftees, Anderson figures to be in the franchise’s plans for a long time.
“The good thing about Ryan is that he continually improves every year,” said General Manager Dell Demps, who sent Gustavo Ayon to the Magic for the 6-foot-10 forward. “We think he’s going to be a big part of where we’re trying to go and the direction we’re headed.”
There’s evidence to back that assessment up.
The 2011-12 season was a breakout one for Anderson. He won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, averaging 16.1 points and 7.7 rebounds in 32.2 minutes and setting career-best marks in every major statistical category except blocks and turnovers.
His biggest successes came from beyond the arc, where he led the NBA in 3-pointers attempted (422) and made (166) for an average of 39.3 percent.
But with the Hornets, his role will be more varied.
With a lack of height and no natural center, New Orleans will likely need Anderson to contribute in the paint, and he’s looking forward to a chance to flash more than his shooting stroke.
“In college (at California), that was my bread and butter. I was predominately a post player,” he said. “Coming into the NBA, I kind of just stood out in the corner and shot 3s. I know there’s strong player development here, so I’m ready to get in and get started.”
Coach Monty Williams didn’t tip his hand as to how he plans to use Anderson, who will fit nicely with the team’s themes of youth and versatility.
Williams said Anderson caught his eye during film sessions preparing for games against the Magic in past years. Orlando center Dwight Howard was the main focus, but dealing with Anderson’s pick-and-roll and perimeter shooting was always a challenge.
“Those are guys we want on our team, guys we had to scout against and prepare for,” Williams said. “Ryan is the kind of guy that’s going to help guys get to the basket and get guys more open shots. Unfortunately he’s going to be a decoy a lot of the time — a high-paid decoy.”
And a leader, even if his age wouldn’t suggest it.
The affable 24-year-old said he talked to Demps and Williams about being “a young veteran,” someone who can relate to the team’s fresh-faced talents and help bring them along. That would especially seem to apply to rookie forward Anthony Davis, who could use all the help he can get as he develops down low.
The Hornets lost both centers this offseason, trading Emeka Okafor and seeing Chris Kaman leave via free agency, so Davis is in need of some tall friends.
“I think we can complement each other very well,” Anderson said. “I know there’s a lot of ways I can score and help open up the court with him. Obviously with his length and shot-blocking ability, we could really clog up the paint. I’m excited to build and play alongside him.”
That’s not the only thing that caught Anderson’s eye about the Hornets.
He said his first phone call with Williams was one of the best moments of his career, as the two talked about their faith and possible future in New Orleans. And as has quickly been noticed by the rest of the league, that future is bright.
“This is a young group with a young nucleus, and I hope this is a group that can really stick together and be close,” Anderson said. “I really believe this is a team that’s going to do some special things in the next couple of years.”