Anthony Tolliver has found a home in Atlanta. Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images
Tolliver handling season with professionalism
By Jon Cooper
To his teammates, Anthony Tolliver goes by "A.T."
It's the simplest, most logical nickname for the 27-year-old forward.
As is the case in most locker rooms, the Hawks' room hosts a bunch of initial-based nicknames — 'J.T.' for Jeff Teague, 'D-Steve' for DeShawn Stevenson, 'Z' for Zaza Pachulia, etc.
But "A.T." is anything but common. After a stellar collegiate career at Creighton, where he was All-Missouri Valley Conference and All-MVC Tournament as a senior, Tolliver went undrafted but worked his way into the NBA and up as a pro. He's in his fourth NBA season and is wearing his fifth different uniform after paying his dues with three teams in the NBA D-League and a stint in Turkey.
He wasn't necessarily expected to make the Atlanta Hawks when he arrived at 2012-13 Training Camp. But, as he's always done, he played with a determination that he would not be denied.
"I didn't really even think about it as a tryout," he said. "It's like coming in and doing what I do and what I've been doing for the last five years. I got the call from [GM] Danny Ferry and was very thankful for the opportunity. It actually scared me when they called me. It's usually no news is good news. So when I got a call I was like, 'This isn't good.' But they were like 'We look forward to you being on this team. You've done a great job. Continue to do it.' I'm looking forward to helping this team out in whatever way I can."
As the season has progressed, the 6'8", 240-pound native of Springfield, Mo. has found multiple ways to help out and opened his nickname up to multiple acronyms that would aptly fit "A.T."
Like, "Any Time." That would describe his readiness to come in and make big plays regardless of how long he may have been off the floor.
Tolliver started the second game of the season, at Oklahoma City, on Nov. 4, playing 22:34 seconds. He wouldn't start again until the beginning of February, when injuries to Pachulia, Stevenson, and Devin Harris forced coach Larry Drew to shake up the lineup. The Hawks had lost three of four and were playing a Memphis team that had won 14 of 15, the best 15-game run in franchise history.
Despite only playing as much as 20 minutes once since the OKC start — Dec. 28 against Cleveland — Tolliver gave the team a spark, scoring eight points, hitting a pair of threes, matching his season-high, and grabbing a season-high seven rebounds, in a season-high 28:23 as the Hawks topped the Grizzlies 103-92.
"You prepare for times like this," he said. "The coaches are showing some confidence in me and what I can bring to the team. I'm just going out there and playing hard, and we'll see what happens. Whenever you don't play it's tough. You have to just kind of take it one game at a time and not really worry about the past and worrying about not playing. Whenever you do get your shot, make the most of it."
His coaches and teammates recognize and appreciate that kind of professionalism.
"I really commend him on how he has handled himself as a person and as a pro," Drew said. "He is a guy who hasn't played a lot for us, but he has continued to work hard. I know all the players here want to play, but I just can't play everybody. He's been a real pro. He was given the nod and he took full advantage of it. You enjoy coaching players like that, that will be patient. I want them hungry but they also have to be patient, and he has done that for us."
"Any Thing" would work for a nickname, as well. Whether it's supplying energy off the bench or encouragement on it, Tolliver does it.
That includes hitting a shot, grabbing a rebound or making a stop.
"He's just the ultimate professional," forward Josh Smith said. "Whenever his name is called he comes and he impacts the game. A guy with those intangibles, like he has, will always have a job in this league. He knows what his niche is in this league and he does a great job of it. He's been helpful for us whenever his number's been called."
The Hawks' numbers with Tolliver have been pretty good. They are 7-3 in the six different incarnations of their starting lineup in which he's been involved.
Talk about numbers, "Another Three" would fit as a monicker, as Tolliver has shot .326 from three-point range. That's five points higher than his career average. That includes a highlight-reel game March 6 against Philadelphia at Philips Arena when he came off the bench to score 21 points, hitting a career-best seven threes in 10 attempts in the 107-96 victory that ended a three-game losing streak and a six-game skid to the Sixers.
"That's something I always try to do coming off the bench, just bring energy. Whether it be on the defensive end, whether it be knocking down shots, I just try to pick up my teammates and do whatever I can to help our team," Tolliver said. "Tonight my job was to knock down shots. I made some good shots."
"The last time he shot the three like that was as a Creighton Bluejay," Kyle Korver, the NBA's leading three-point shooter and a fellow Creighton alum, joked. "'A.T.' is a good shooter. It's something that he's really worked on this year. It's hard when you don't get consistent minutes to shoot a higher percentage because your shots are kind of here and there, but he's been getting good minutes lately, and he's been shooting the ball well."
"He's a capable shooter. We knew that from his Golden State days and other teams that he's played on," Harris added. "He's coming in every day and working hard on his shot. Obviously, it's paying off for him."
With fewer than 20 games remaining and the Hawks battling for playoff position, "A.T." continues to play his part in helping the team, one game at a time, one way at a time.
The Hawks hope that in the end, those contributions will lead to the coolest "A.T." acronym of all — "A Title."
Jon Cooper is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.
Second photo by Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images