Welcome back to the Tolliverse. Anthony Tolliver has returned to Detroit after a one-year stay in Sacramento. I’m not sure anybody at this time last year could have predicted just how much the Pistons would miss Tolliver’s presence on the floor and in the locker room. The Pistons were a team without any veteran leaders and with a woeful lack of 3-point shooting. Tolliver has returned to fill both of those voids. Whether his behind-the-scenes impact is greater than his on-the-court production remains to be seen.
Year in Review
Saying Tolliver was one of the lone bright spots in Sacramento last year probably says more about the Kings than it does about Tolliver. Still, he had perhaps the best season of his career. He played a career-high 1,477 minutes and netted the second highest true shooting percentage of his career and shot 39.1 percent from 3.
The Kings had a -3.9 net rating, fifth-worst in the NBA, last season. Only 15 four-man units played more than 100 minutes and sported a positive net rating. The best unit at +50 in 152 minutes of action features one Anthony Tolliver. AT was actually featured in four of those net-positive lineups. It’s not hard to see why – when you put Tolliver on the floor good things tend to happen. He always displays maximum effort, he can keep up on defense (especially in a reserve role) and his 3-point shooting is always dangerous so he opens up the floor for his teammates.
One Big Question
Can the Pistons afford not to play Anthony Tolliver?
Tolliver can be a high-volume serious 3-point threat from the power forward position. Players who cannot really fill that role include Detroit’s prospective starting power forward Tobias Harris and reserve power forward Jon Leuer.
The Pistons were one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the NBA last season and Detroit made several moves to address the lack of perimeter shooting. They added Langston Galloway and Avery Bradley in the backcourt. They drafted Luke Kennard. They also signed Tolliver. But playing time could be tough to come by. If Detroit gets desperate for Tolliver as an additional 3-point threat it might motivate Stan Van Gundy to show Harris into more small forward minutes and Leuer into more reserve center minutes. Or Tolliver could just supplant Leuer in the rotation.
Conversely, if those backcourt additions really help boost Detroit’s 3-point shooting and help space the floor for Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith at point guard and Andre Drummond and Boban Marjanovic at center then Tolliver’s services won’t be as vital.
In many ways Tolliver is like the anti-Jon Leuer. In both good and bad ways. The chief difference between them is that Tolliver is almost exclusively a spot-up shooter. And he’s not afraid to let it go. Tolliver topped the Kings in spot-up shooting frequency last year with 47.9 percent of his possessions consisting of spot-up shots. Detroit only had one player take as many spot-up shots as Tolliver did last season in Tobias Harris. But Harris played many more minutes and took many more shots.
This is a typical Anthony Tolliver look. Even with multiple guys running at him he knows he’ll be able to get a clean look.
Tolliver is also able to do a couple key things that will be valuable to Detroit. He can always fly out to the corners to help space the floor and be an outlet as a secondary option during a pick-and-roll featuring Reggie Jackson or Ish Smith, or even if the Pistons run a dribble hand-off action for Tobias Harris. He also is able to pick-and-pop if the defense switches a small guy onto him.
This season, Tolliver can slide into any bench unit no matter the makeup and fill a valuable role on the floor. If SVG wants to feature a half-court Boban-centered offense then Tolliver can park himself on the perimeter and dare his man to leave him to go double Marjanovic in the post. Or he can be a running mate of a smaller lineup with Jon Leuer at center and Ish Smith relentlessly pushing the pace.
The only question is, how will Van Gundy get him on the floor?
Oddly, the best-case scenario for the Pistons might be more of a worse-case scenario for Tolliver. If Tolliver isn’t seeing the floor that likely means that either Jon Leuer or Henry Ellenson are playing really well or that Detroit is getting plenty of legitimate 3-point shooting from its wing players and doesn’t need to rely on Tolliver as much as it did two years ago. A good season for Tolliver and Detroit might be a 600-ish minute season where he is used as a major offensive spark in small-ball reserve lineups.
Following the theme, a truly worst-case scenario is that the Pistons offense is so broken that Tolliver is inserted into the starting lineup as SVG desperately searches for answers. He plays 1,500 minutes where he is mostly overmatched at power forward and the season looks and feels a lot like it did last season.