D-League Alumni Profile: Chris Andersen

With the D-League Draft less than three weeks away, I’ve decided to launch a new theme of posts that I’ll be rolling out periodically: D-League Alumni Profiles. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll give a brief overview of all of nine number one overall selections in the history of the D-League since its inception in 2001, including their performance in the D-League and, if applicable, the NBA. Leading off in the series is Chris Andersen.

In addition to being the NBA’s most inked player and his infamous performance in the 2005 Slam Dunk Contest, Chris “Birdman” Andersen owns the dual distinctions of being the first player ever selected in the NBA Development League draft (number one overall in 2001 by the Fayetteville Patriots) and the first D-League player ever to earn a call-up to the NBA (by the Denver Nuggets after playing in just three D-League games).

Chris Andersen: Then & Now

A few things have changed since the Denver Nuggets made Chris Andersen the first D-League call-up back in 2001.

Andersen’s brief D-League career was nothing to write home about. In three games and one start, he averaged just 4.7 points (on 44.4 percent shooting) and 3.7 rebounds in 14 minutes per game. It’s hard to say what has developed more since then—his game or the canvas that is his tattoo-covered body.

The Birdman is entering his ninth NBA season. After spending his first three seasons in Denver, he signed as a free agent with the New Orleans Hornets in 2004. Midway through his second season with the Hornets Andersen was suspended from the league for two years after testing positive for a prohibited substance.

Andersen returned to the Hornets at the end of the 2007-08 season, appearing in five games and playing just 34 minutes.

The following season, 2008-09, Andersen returned to the Nuggets on a one-year contract. The same team that saw something in him back in his D-League days gave him another second chance, and Andersen made them thankful they did. Andersen finished second in the league in blocks (175) and blocks per game (2.5) and played a key role as a source of instant energy off the bench for a Nuggets team that advanced to the Western Conference Finals. And last season he set career highs in games played (76), minutes per game (22.3) and rebounds per game (6.4).

Offseason knee surgery to repair a torn patella tendon will delay the debut of the  Birdman this season. According this report in the Denver Post, Andersen may not see court time until January. The report also says Andersen played last season on an injured knee from December on. Though his start to this season remains a question, there’s no denying Andersen’s place in D-League history as the league’s first draft pick ever and one of the brighest stars—or at least brightly colored ones—to make a successful leap from the D-League to the NBA.