If Wikipedia doesn’t remember former NBA player Greg Anderson, you surely won’t. No not, Barry Bonds’ trainer who allegedly gave the Giants slugger, Jason Giambi and other athletes performance drugs. And we aren’t talking about Greg Anderson, co-founder of South Lord Records and guitarist of “doom/stoner metal oufit Goatsnake.”
To find the Greg Anderson I’m talking about on Wikipedia, you have to search for Cadillac Anderson. This is something that might interest Kerry Collins. But, we’ll get to that shortly.
While Greg Anderson was a participant as a rookie in the 1988 Slam Dunk contest (finished 6th – just happy to be there), he still bears recalling in 2011 because of his role on the 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs. Coming off a 60-win season the year before, the Spurs brought in Dominique Wilkins as a role-player to complement the in their prime combo of David Robinson and Sean Elliot. The Spurs looked like they would be serious contenders for the NBA Championship that season.
It wasn’t to be. A pre-seaon back injury compounded by a broken foot forced Robinson to be shut down for the season after just six games. The Spurs’ stumbles were compounded by an injury to Elliot that left San Antonio without 40 percent of their starting line-up for a large part of the season.
With Robinson out of the lineup, the Spurs used four different players to fill his spot. A quick check of Basketball Reference shows that it was Greg Anderson and Will Perdue who got the starts in Robinson’s place. Anderson started 48 games while Purdue started 34 that season.
In fairness to both players, I’ve combined their stats for the Robinson-free season sandwiched between Robinson’s stats from the year before and after his injury.
- David Robinson – 1995-96: 25.0 ppg/12.2 rpg (36.8 mpg)
- Perdue/Anderson – 1996-97: 13.2 ppg/10 rpg (49.5 mpg combined)
- David Robinson – 1997-98: 21.6/10.6 rpg (33.7 mpg)
When comparing Robinson to Purdue/Anderson, it important to keep in mind the minutes per game they logged. The most obvious fall-off is in offensive production. It took Perdue and Anderson a whole games worth of time to just get to 50% of what Robinson did the year before in three quoarters worth of time. That is a whole lot of points gone missing that season. What seals the deal is a little advanced statistics. Robinson’s offensive win share in 95-96 and 97-98 were 11.1 and 7.8. The latter stat is lower, but with Tim Duncan’s arrival, he was no longer the only big man option when the team had the ball.
At first glance, the rebound numbers look pretty even, especially in Robinson’s season back from injury. But the minutes per game and Duncan’s arrival account for that initial similarity. The advanced stats illustrate that Robinson maintained his dominance on the defensive end. So much so, despite his decline in offensive win shares, he led the league in win shares per 48 minutes. Just for a point of reference, Anderson/Perdue threw down a 6.6 overall win share in 96-7. That includes offense and defense.
Look, I hate rhetorical questions as much as the next fellow, but you have to be wondering, if you are still here, what does all this mid-90s reminiscing have to do with Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts? A lot.
When Robinson returned in 1997, he was 31. Not old, but there was a lot of mileage on his knees, legs, and back. The Spurs were a perennial contender with Robinson, but a new guard was going to be needed soon. Losing Robinson robbed the Spurs of the 1996 season, but it gave them the worst record and a chance at the top pick in the 1997 NBA Rookie Draft. With the first pick, they drafted Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan. A power forward, he helped lead them to an NBA championship with Robinson in the strike-shortened 1999 season. When they won the NBA Finals in 2003, the Spurs were Duncan’s team and that year was Robinson’s last in the NBA. If Robinson had avoided his back issues and broken foot, Duncan could have easily become a Celtic and the Robinson led-Spurs would have been a perennial playoff team that never won it all.
When it looked like the NFL season might not happen on time this year, Peyton Manning’s injury didn’t seem like that big of a deal. He’d either have a lot more time to heal up or he could rehab himself into shape for the regular season. When the lockout ended, and the Colts announced he wouldn’t play in the pre-season but would be ready for Week 1, I wasn’t so sure anymore. Neck surgery is a big deal, especially for an aging quarterback.
After it was revealed there had been a setback, Kerry Collins was lured out of retirement to serve as interim starting quarterback, and Manning had a second procedure which has a recovery time of two-to-three months, things in Indy looked stark. Then the Colts took the field against the Houston Texans this past Sunday.
It was ghastly. Unable to score until the 4th Quarter, the Colts gave up 34 points in the first half. In the first, Collins fumbled and turned over the ball on two consecutive series, with one resulting in a safety. Already, there is talk that the Colts should aim for the #1 pick in next April’s draft. Some writers are saying they should draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
I’m not saying they should or shouldn’t. I’m just saying that with a 35-year old behind center, the Manning Era in Indianapolis will end soon. He could have a few years left in the tank when he comes back later this year, or for next season, but the Colts brain trust needs to look toward the future. Kerry Collins is no Will Purdue and he isn’t Greg Anderson. He led the Panthers to the playoffs around the same time David Robinson and Tim Duncan were running the show in San Antonio, he was the QB for the Giants when they made it to the Super Bowl, and was respectable in Tennessee. But, the Colts’ lack of depth at quarterback when Manning went down has to raise concern in Indianapolis’ front office as they get closer and closer to a day when the guy taking the snap behind center isn’t Manning.
Unlike the NBA with its draft lottery and odds at the top pick, the NFL inverses its standings for its draft order. Maybe the Colts will be a Top-5 or -10 draft pick team and find the next standout QB or running back. Maybe they’ll trade down to draft the player they can groom to replace Manning. Nevertheless, while Colts fans commiserate over a potentially lost 2011 season, there is hope. Due south, the roadmap for overcoming a star’s injury in the short-term and reinforcing a team to survive that player’s retirement can be found in San Antonio.