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Anderson’s defense praised, but offense has kept him on Kings’ bench

Though James Anderson, right, has been called the best defender for the Sacramento Kings, it hasn’t guaranteed a lot of playing time for a team last in the NBA in defense. ... Anderson (5) drives past the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Richard Jefferson (24) during an NBA basketball game Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, in Cleveland.
Though James Anderson, right, has been called the best defender for the Sacramento Kings, it hasn’t guaranteed a lot of playing time for a team last in the NBA in defense. ... Anderson (5) drives past the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Richard Jefferson (24) during an NBA basketball game Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, in Cleveland. The Associated Press

James Anderson has been called the Kings’ best defender, but that label hasn’t guaranteed him a lot of playing time this season for a team ranked last in defense.

The Kings allow a league-high 109.2 points per game, so they’ve made playing their scoring threats a priority, often leaving the offensively limited Anderson on the bench.

“We know James can cover and probably is our best defender,” coach George Karl said. “He didn’t have a very good offensive start to the season, and because of that I think we went another way.”

But lately, the Kings have gone Anderson’s way.

You kind of lose confidence when you don’t see a couple fall in, then the next game you don’t play. It all kind of plays into each other. Just to see some go in lately and kind of getting into a rhythm, it felt good.

James Anderson

The 6-foot-6 guard has appeared in 40 of the Kings’ 70 games. He has played in the last four games, including three starts because Karl wanted a bigger guard to defend early. The Kings also are missing Ben McLemore because of a finger injury, and Karl prefers to bring Marco Belinelli off the bench.

Even though Anderson missed 5 of 6 shots in Monday’s loss to the Chicago Bulls, he is shooting 52.2 percent (12 of 23) in those four games. And he scored in double figures in back-to-back games.

Anderson has started 11 games, but he hasn’t made enough shots most of the season to stay on the floor. Though he’s averaging just 2.6 points and shooting 34.9 percent this season, he knows he could be thrown into a game, even for a minute or two, just to play defense.

“It’s very tough, especially when a guy has already caught a rhythm and you’re just sitting over there,” Anderson said. “You’ve just got to try to stay loose on the bench as much as you can. You can only do so much. Whatever it takes during a timeout, stretching, whatever you can do to try to keep moving.”

In 11 of his appearances, he’s played five minutes or less.

“That’s my whole focus, just trying to stay ready and be ready when my number’s called,” Anderson said. “That’s what I take pride in, being ready until I can help the team. How I can make an impact on the game is what I’m focused on.”

But when Anderson is struggling offensively, Karl is less inclined to leave him in. Karl doesn’t want a player who is an offensive liability on the court, even if he’s a strong defender.

34.9 James Anderson’s field-goal percentage this season

“(Starting Anderson) was tried a few times,” Karl said. “It probably wasn’t tried as often as we thought we were going to do it. Getting off to a bad start sometimes makes the coach get a little more conservative.”

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It’s hard for a player to improve his offense while coming off the bench, so Anderson has been encouraged by his recent play.

“Yeah it’s tough, especially as far as getting in a rhythm, it plays a big part on offense,” Anderson said. “Defense is different, but on offense you’re going from here to there, especially not shooting. You kind of lose confidence when you don’t see a couple fall in, then the next game you don’t play. It all kind of plays into each other. Just to see some go in lately and kind of getting into a rhythm, it felt good.”

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

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