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2015-16 Pistons review: Anthony Tolliver’s role shrank, future in Detroit doubtful

The very definition of a role player and by all accounts a great teammate, Tolliver may get squeezed out this summer by higher, more long-term priorities.

Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

There was no other Piston last season who knew his role and stuck to it more consistently than Anthony Tolliver. He gave great effort on defense and stuck to his calling card on offense – find an open spot beyond the arc and be prepared to launch a three in a split-second.

Of his 332 field goal attempts, 82 percent were three-pointers, and 99 percent were assisted. His accuracy rate on these shots, 36 percent, over 72 games was the same as it was in 52 games for Detroit in 2014-15. Even though he played only about half as many minutes as starters Reggie Jackson (118), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (114) and Marcus Morris (102), Tolliver made 98 threes. And of those three, only Morris shot better – barely.

After a slow start (31 percent from three for October-November), Tolliver heated up. From December through February he was Detroit’s top marksman – making 39 percent of his threes. When Ersan Ilyasova and Brandan Jennings were swapped for Tobias Harris at the All-Star Break, Stan Van Gundy plugged Tolliver into the starting lineup while Harris got acclimated to his new team. Given how capably he had been playing – and how well he did as a starter when Greg Monroe was injured the previous season – it was a reasonable decision.

Unfortunately, Tolliver sprained a knee early in a loss to the Pelicans that dropped the team's record to 27-29. He would miss the next eight games, but Detroit went 6-2 during that span with Harris as a starter. Tolliver struggled at first when he returned to his reserve role in mid-March, and his minutes never matched his pre-All-Star break averages. Yet his shooting percentages quickly returned to their typical accuracy levels. In victories over Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Chicago and Cleveland, his 17 threes were difference makers.

The two-year/$6 million contract that Tolliver originally signed with Phoenix in 2014 expires this summer, and he will turn 31 on June 1. Van Gundy has made it clear that while he would like him to return, his first priority is to upgrade the roster with more long-term answers.

Tolliver’s role in the playoff series versus Cleveland was significantly reduced (8.7 mpg, 1.3 ppg), though this may have been dictated in part by the matchups and does not necessarily indicate that his days in Motown are winding down. If the February trade with Houston for Donatas Motiejunas had gone through, the chances of Tolliver sticking around would have seemed even more remote. Now it appears his future relevance will depend on what decisions are made in the upcoming NBA Draft and in free agency.

Assuming that Harris is entrenched as the starter at power forward, theoretically there is room for two reserves. Last season, however, the roster only carried Ilyasova and Tolliver at that spot. Van Gundy envisioned using backup center Aaron Baynes against teams with bigger front lines, but this was seldom done. More frequently his choice was to use Morris upfront – especially when Tolliver was injured.

Last year Joel Anthony was similarly on the bubble going into the off-season, and he was eventually signed to serve as the third center on a two-year/$5 million deal with a team option for the second season. Depending on what other moves are made, Tolliver might return in a similar arrangement in 2016-17.

In any case, we can expect that "The Tolliverse" will continue to shrink. But here’s one vote to sustain the hope that it will not disappear.