Sometimes, when you watch someone shoot a basketball for the first time, you just know. It’s a feeling based on nothing more than gut instinct and first impressions, but you walk away from it almost mesmerized. ‘Damn, there’s just something so pure about the way the ball comes out of his hand,’ you think to yourself.
I am not and will never claim to be an enlightened basketball mind, at least when it comes to scouting players. But I can remember getting that awestruck feeling for the first time when I was a 12-year-old kid watching warmups before a Louisville-Air Force game in 2002 at Freedom Hall.
It was then that I saw a freshman from the Bronx knock down 3-pointer after 3-pointer with ease, many of which were 25 feet or further. His name was Francisco Garcia. He went on to become an all-American who led Louisville to its first Final Four in 19 years before making it to the NBA, where he still plays today.
My point with that anecdote is that you get an inescapable premonition when you lay eyes on not just an accomplished shooter, but one that just looks so natural doing it. I noticed it about 11 years ago with Garcia and it happened again a little over a year ago when I saw Karvel Anderson shoot for the first time.
I knew nothing about him at that moment. It was my first game on the Robert Morris beat, so I had never spoken with him or seen him play. I didn’t know that he would play much of that season with an injured wrist. I didn’t know that in sharp contrast to that smooth, flawless release was a backstory that was anything but.
But the image stuck with me. He went on to have a strong junior season doing largely what he exhibited that night – being a consistently reliable presence from 3-point range.
Anderson’s first season of Division I basketball created expectations for this current one, but some questions still lingered. How would he come back from this third wrist surgery in two years? How would he respond to increased attention from defenses, especially with the departure of a handful of talented shooters? Most of all, how would the player that relished being “the best-kept secret” live life as a well-known commodity, at least in the NEC?
The answer has been pretty damn resounding.
Before the season began, I did a blog post on the best-case scenarios for each player. Below is what I wrote about Anderson:
Anderson’s offensive rating last season put him among the top 100 players in Division I last season and it was the highest rating of an RMU player in the KenPom era (since 2003) that used 20 percent or more of the team’s possessions. That sort of efficient play continues and even with more shots and more attention from opposing defenses, he continues to shoot a similar percentage from three-point range. Not only does he stay healthy all year, but he leads the Colonials in scoring, makes first team all-NEC and is a strong contender for player of the year.
It’s obviously too early to say anything declarative on end-of-season awards, but so far, it looks like he may even surpass those grandiose expectations.
The basic, per-game stats stand out immediately. Here’s a quick look at those:
Beyond some of those earlier anecdotal claims are more numbers, the kind that illuminate a hard-to-deny fact – Karvel Anderson is having the best season of any player in Robert Morris’ modern history.
As of the team’s most recent game, Thursday's 69-64 victory against Fairleigh Dickinson, these are Anderson’s most pertinent offensive numbers on KenPom.com. His national rank is highlighted below in yellow:
As a quick refresher, offensive rating is sort of a catch-all number that measures offensive efficiency, percentage of shots and possessions used are pretty self-explanatory, effective field goal percentage is a player’s adjusted field goal percentage when accounting for the fact that 3s are worth 50 percent more points and true shooting percentage factors in trips to the free throw line.
Regardless, the national rankings should be enough of an indication – in some of the most telling offensive statistics for a shooting guard, Anderson is among the 50 best players in the country. His numbers in those categories are the best of any Robert Morris player since 2003.
For a little extra context, here are Anderson’s same numbers from last season:
Respectable numbers, no doubt, especially for someone in their first season of Division I basketball. But the reason that I added that is to show the kind of improvement he has made this season and how that progress has come amid some changes.
Simply put, he has managed to noticeably increase his offensive efficiency and production while taking more of the team’s overall shots and using a greater percentage of their possessions. That’s pretty remarkable on its own, but just how efficient he has been with that greater usage is pretty absurd.
There will be a lot of discussion over the next week or so about whether Anderson should win NEC player of the year. I believe so, but when you see someone play on what seems like a nightly basis, you become admittedly biased in the matter. Fairleigh Dickinson’s Sidney Sanders and Bryant’s Alex Francis would be more than acceptable winners, as well.
What I was partially trying to do with this post was signal that Anderson’s something of a unifying figure in a divided world of those who obsess over college basketball.
Though my take on watching him play is unique, he passes the eyeball test so many are fond of. His stroke is as pure as they come and when he gets going from 3-point range, it’s a mild shock if the ball even grazes the rim. And on the other side, he has the sort of ridiculous advanced statistics that make statheads like myself drool.
This is a trend that’s been going on for much of the season, but with only a handful of games left in this season and Anderson’s college career, it’s always worth bringing up.
In all likelihood, Anderson will never be Francisco Garcia, never being a Final Four participant, a first-round NBA Draft pick or a nine-year NBA veteran.
But there are some things you can never forget in life and there are some things that transcend time, regardless of how much basketball you watch. And for both Garcia and Anderson -- as a young fan watching the first and as a writer watching the latter -- you always remember the first time you see something as pure as a perfect shot.
and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG