One-on-one with former Indiana Pacers forward and current Fort Wayne Mad Ants wing Justin Anderson
FORT WAYNE — 2015 first-round draft pick Justin Anderson’s long, winding career has taken him to the G League three different times. The forward, who played mainly for the Indiana Pacers last year, is back for his fourth season. Anderson will be playing with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, an affiliate Pacers team.
In the NBA, Anderson’s solid play in Fort Wayne last season helped him get NBA opportunities. After being signed by the Cavaliers in midseason, Anderson played in three games for Cleveland and then spent about a month with Indiana Pacers to conclude the campaign. He played in 13 games for the blue and gold and started six times, averaging 6.8 points and 3.1 rebounds per game in an Indiana jersey.
Anderson is a big supporter of the Mad Ants and his team this year. He wants to be back on the NBA roster like he was last year. He landed on the 1st Team All-NBA G League last season after averaging 26.6 points per game in the regular season for Fort Wayne, and his production and defense helped him return to the association. He will need to be similarly talented again this year if he wants to achieve that promotion in 2022-23.
The 28-year old recently talked with AllPacers about his time with the Pacers last season, his relationship with head coach Rick Carlisle, what he sees in emerging star Tyrese Haliburton, the Mad Ants, and more.
AllPacers: Last year, Lance Stephenson talked a lot about how the G League was the right path for him to get him back to the NBA. He was also two feet in with Grand Rapids, which you just discussed. What is the best thing for you? Do you want to be back on an NBA team this season?
Justin Anderson: Absolutely. I don’t remember a time in D-League when I didn’t want the team to go down. I wanted to be up (in the NBA), I wanted to get all the experience that I could possibly get learning from my veterans as a rookie in 2015. My path is not the same as everyone else. There are no two stories in this league. I have learned that and made sacrifices. Your game must continue to improve. You can’t wait for the opportunity to fit in, but you can prepare and be ready.
I’m currently under a two year contract here and I want to fulfill that contract. This organization did a great job in giving me the opportunity and putting my skills out on the court. I was able to shoot it and defend every position. I wanted to ensure that I fully utilized this opportunity before I made any other decisions in my career. I’m only two feet from each step in Fort Wayne and the G League, and it’s a great set-up. I hope that my journey will lead me to where I want to go, barring any health issues. I know what my big picture is, and I know where I want it to take me. This is only a small part of it.
AllPacers: I saw you after a training camp practice walk right up to Rick Carlisle, you guys are chatting in the [practice] facilities. How did your Dallas relationship influence you getting here? And how close are you now that you want to be back in the league.
Anderson: It’s crazy. I told them that day, and I said, “Man, it’s so nice to see you.” Can you believe that this is the eighth year? He’s like, ‘wow’. I told him that he gave me my first shot and that he taught me how a pro. My teammates were just as important as coach Carlisle for me.
But it is a special bond we have. It’s a special bond, a certain level of trust, that we have even with the University of Virginia playing at my college. He’s a basketball genius. Look at what he has done with Dallas, and now with the Pacers. This guy lives, breathes and eats basketball. He has a great mind. He is a legend in the game. And it’s awesome to be able to be this close to the club, recognizing that there’s 29 other teams in the NBA, and whatever one needs my talent, I’ll be ready for, for sure.
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But with this organization in particular, they gave me an unbelievable opportunity last year. They trust me with their young men, and that was one reason they wanted me to return for my talent and skills. I will take full advantage of this.
AllPacers: You’ve been on winning teams under Rick [Carlisle] and on developing teams under Rick, and a lot of chatter with him is, ‘He didn’t sign up for a rebuild.’ He loves these teaching moments and being that type of coach. How has he changed as a coach? And how has he helped your development?
Anderson: Once again, he’s a basketball savant. He is only interested in basketball. He doesn’t really care about the noise in the organization. He actually tells us to block out all the noise. When he’s with younger players, I believe he enjoys being able to share his genuine perspective with them. There’s 450 roster spots in this league, and to keep one of those every year is very difficult. He does a great job of preparing us for this, if I may say so myself. His track record shows that players who have played under him do a great job and are in it for the long haul. If you’re a young player, and you’re under his wing as a player, it’s not something you want to take for granted.
AllPacers: What did all those call-ups mean to you last year? After spending the year out of the league with injuries to get back in the league for 13 games.
Anderson: It made everything make sense. Again, I was two-feet in, I’m always two-feet in. It was part of my plan. It was all just a matter of time before it became a reality. I now have a similar plan. I hope to achieve the same result. We can sign for the remainder of the season and decide where we will be when it comes. As of now, I am focused on dominating this year.
AllPacers: So you had no camp offers this year?
AllPacers: You were with Tyrese Haliburton post trade last year. What made him stand out as a young player? How did he take on more of a leadership role? Was he a better player than you?
Anderson: Yeah, I spent some time with him as well in the summer. His playmaking ability, his ability get guys involved, get them open and easy looks is, although I don’t want him to be considered second to none, because there are a lot more great guards in the league, he’s already looking like an All Star. He’s making a case for himself to be in his first All-Star Game. He’s an incredible playmaker and now he’s showing that he can score the basketball and shoot the basketball. He was always able to do these things but Sacramento was a new market for him.
Now, Indy has been his home and has helped him thrive. Many people spoke a lot about how he missed Sacramento after they traded him. He has done an amazing job of recouping and getting back on his feet. Indy is his new home. It almost feels like they drafted his brain. He plays with a certain level confidence and freedom, it’s almost like he has a sense of air. He plays with the same level of air as he is supposed to when I watch their games. He’s exactly who he is in this league, and he’s making the most of it.
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The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.