Anthony Tolliver is the living embodiment of an NBA journeyman. Beginning his NBA career in the 2008-09 season after going undrafted in 2007, he has played for a grand total of eight teams -- San Antonio, Portland, Golden State, Minnesota, Atlanta, Charlotte, Phoenix and Detroit. He has also spent considerable time in the D-League, as well as stints overseas in Turkey and Germany. Therefore, it was viewed as a mere footnote at the end of the transactions log on NBA.com when it was announced that Tolliver had been acquired for the small cost of underused 2013 second round draft pick Tony Mitchell.
There were reasons to believe this trade could be considered useful for optimists. Tolliver had a good 2013-14 season as a member of a decent Charlotte Bobcats squad, averaging 20 minutes a game with shooting splits of .420/.413/.805. However, after parlaying his good play into a respectable contract with the Suns, he fell off a cliff, shooting in the mid 30s from both the field and behind the line*, and racked up four straight DNPs before the trade. In fact, in 24 appearances with Phoenix, Tolliver failed to play double-digit minutes 11 times, failed to score eight times, only played over 20 minutes three times and only hit double-digit scoring twice.
* Tolliver actually shot better from three for Phoenix than for Detroit, .387 to .360, but in a far smaller sample size.
At the time of the trade, Detroit basketball fans were on a high following the fresh waiving of Josh Smith from the roster. However, many fans failed to see the good in this move, which you can read about here, in the immediate aftermath of the trade, but let's highlight a couple (don't be alarmed if you see your name, nothing personal, just making a point).
I don't see any upside to this. - revken
Tolliver shouldn't be getting any playing time with Monroe and Jerebko holding down the PF position... - Csay12
Meh - Goose15
If Tolliver made any sense for this roster at this stage, I wouldn’t mind it. But he doesn’t. - Kevin Sawyer
Now, these feelings were perfectly reasonable. We already had an established stretch four on the team in Jonas Jerebko, who inexplicably failed to get the minutes he deserved. Still, some people managed to find the optimism in the move, even if at the time it could've been viewed as grasping at straws.
I see nothing wrong with this. Mitchell couldn’t get any playing time with 2 different coaches with us. - lions fan displaced in las vegas
While it’s disappointing to see Mitchell go given that we never saw what he could be, Tolliver can be a good 11th guy who comes on for 10 minutes a game and forces defences to stretch and respect his spot-up ability. - Ben Quagliata
I like the pickup. Tolliver has some usage to him while Mitchell looked like a career D-Leaguer. - DBB Diablo
So there were mixed feelings about the move, but no one felt too strongly about it. After all, we traded away a guy who played about 10 minutes all season for a guy who had fallen out of the rotation of an average Phoenix team. There wasn't really anything to be excited about on paper.
Therefore, no one was able to predict the effect that Tolliver would go on to have on this Pistons team, both good and bad. He struggled initially, but that didn't matter, because we were living in the beautiful reality of what Spencer Dinwiddie deemed "The Tolliver Effect" (a DBB reader coined the phrase Tolliverse which I tweeted at Spencer and got a reply but I can't remember who it was, thanks for helping me get my first ever NBA player reply).
In the so called Tolliver Effect/Tolliverse, the Pistons went 12-3, before the fateful game in Milwaukee when all the fun was drained out of the season. Still, Anthony Tolliver went on to have an unprecedented effect on the Pistons, appearing in 52 games (11 starts while Greg Monroe was out injured), averaging 7.7 points in 22.3 minutes per game, while shooting .423/.360/.790.
In all, it proved to be a very good move for Stan Van Gundy, jettisoning a fringe player for a steady contributor in the rotation. As we all know, Tolliver's arrival was the beginning of the end for Jonas Jerebko, but Tolliver really did deserve his minutes (Jonas deserved them as well, but there can be only one winner). I think it was good for Jonas to leave the team and get a fresh start somewhere in his prime years, while the Pistons can be happy with their transaction, flipping Mitchell for Tolliver.
What makes Tolliver great value is his relatively meager contract. At the time of the trade, the good part was that, even if he performed poorly, his salary was only partly guaranteed ($400,000 out of $3 million). However, with his great play, we can expect Van Gundy to exercise the option and Tolliver will once again be back in the Motor City for the 2015-16 season.
What do you think of Tolliver's contributions to the team this past season?