Ever since Dirk Nowitzki first emerged as an All-Star nearly a decade ago, NBA teams have sought to replicate the formula that has brought the Dallas Mavericks so much success. For several years, any tall young European player who showed the ability to shoot accurately from the perimeter was tagged as "the next Dirk Nowitzki."
In The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, the authors of Free Darko identify Zarko Cabarkapa, Pau Gasol, Maciej Lampe and, yes, Darko Milicic as examples. More recently, Andrea Bargnani of the Toronto Raptors has been stuck with the Nowitzki comparison since he entered the league.
At some point, it became evident that the search for a successor was fruitless. Nowitzki is a trend-setter, but also one of a kind. There is no one else truly equivalent to Nowitzki in NBA history. There do exist, however, players with Nowitzki-like skills. It turns out we were just looking in the wrong place. Instead of growing up in Europe, the closest analogue was developing in anonymity not far outside Sacramento.
Compared with Nowitzki's, Ryan Anderson's NBA career has produced relatively little fanfare. The biggest claim to fame for the Orlando Magic reserve was being part of the trade that also sent Vince Carter from the New Jersey Nets to Orlando. In three seasons, Anderson has started just 50 games, and he spent part of last season out of the Magic's rotation before the team traded Rashard Lewis.
Yet Anderson has shown a unique skill set of his own that merits the seemingly preposterous comparison to Nowitzki.