Tolliver gets a rare 2nd year with the same team – and he’s high on Pistons outlook

Anthony Tolliver
Anthony Tolliver is one of just two Pistons who’ll be unrestricted free agents on July 1.
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Anthony Tolliver’s eighth NBA season will be the first where he returns to the same team, same coach, same system.

“I’ve thought back to my whole career, even in Minnesota when I was there for two years, we switched coaches (Kurt Rambis to Rick Adelman), had two different systems,” he said. “So change has always been something for me. I’ve gotten used to it. What might be different is doing the same thing over again.”

The Pistons changed their roster significantly over the summer – there’s a good chance they’ll open the season with five new players in their rotation – but there is an element of stability in place, too, as they enter the second year of the Stan Van Gundy era.

And there’s a place for Tolliver within that structure. The likeliest scenario is that Tolliver will come off the bench behind newcomer Ersan Ilyasova at power forward, though Tolliver isn’t conceding anything with training camp around the corner.

“I’ve always liked his game,” Tolliver said of Ilyasova, 28, who unlike Tolliver had spent his entire NBA career with one team, Milwaukee, until the Pistons acquired him in June for expiring contracts. “I’ve always kind of admired the other guys in the league like me, as far as maybe a little undersized at the four but just hard workers, people who can really shoot the ball, spread the floor and just have a lot of success. Having him is only going to benefit our team. I know everybody kind of looks at him as the starter, but for me I’m coming in trying to compete just like I compete every single day. It’s going to be great for our team either way, no matter what our roles end up being.”

Tolliver is bristling with optimism, seeing a team that now has a clear understanding of how it wants to play and has the depth and shooting to make it work.

“We’ll have 10 solid – maybe even more than – but 10 guys. If you have 10 guys that can really play, where you don’t look at any position and say, that’s a weakness, and I think we’re going to have 10 guys who can play at a high level,” he said. “I think practices are going to be dogfights.”

The likeliest starting five would consist of Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the backcourt, Ilyasova and Marcus Morris at forward and Andre Drummond at center. That leaves a second unit of Tolliver and rookie Stanley Johnson at forward, Aron Baynes at center and Jodie Meeks and either Brandon Jennings – if he’s healthy – or veteran Steve Blake at point guard, with solid options still in place behind them in players like Joel Anthony and Spencer Dinwiddie.

Except for a shooting slump for parts of March, Tolliver provided consistent 3-point shooting off the bench after arriving from Phoenix in a Christmas eve trade last season. When Greg Monroe missed 11 games with a knee injury later in the season, the Pistons went 7-4 in his absence with Tolliver starting – a time when Jackson began to flourish at point guard with added space to operate provided by a true stretch four.

Playing that way for 48 minutes a game this season – whether it’s Ilyasova, Tolliver or perhaps even Morris or Johnson swinging to power forward – will benefit the Pistons, Tolliver says.

“I feel that’s going to definitely affect our offense in a positive way,” he said. “I think Reggie’s going to be more comfortable, Andre’s going to be more comfortable and those are the two guys we’re going to be playing through. Whenever you make offense more beneficial to the two guys who are going to be making the most plays, I think it’s only going to be good for your whole team.”

Tolliver has the numbers to back up his theory, too.

“I saw a stat the other day about Andre. His per-36 (production extrapolated to 36 minutes) with me on the floor was like 22 (points) and 18 (rebounds). We talked about that. I knew we played well together and I knew he played well when I was on the court, but I didn’t realize it was that efficient. Really good numbers. But it makes sense. When Greg (Monroe) was on the court, he had no space. They were both on the block and around the basket and it’s hard to operate when you’re doing that. But when you have four shooters outside and you’re able to really roll to the basket, get some dunks and some easy ones, it’s just going to be a good thing for everybody. More space for Reggie, more space for Andre.”

And Tolliver knows his job is helping to create that space by knocking down 3-point shots at a high rate. A whopping 71 percent of Tolliver’s shots with the Pistons last season came from the 3-point line and he connected on 36 percent. He spent his off-season at his home in Frisco, Texas, near Dallas, working on conditioning and honing his shot.

“I have high expectations for myself as far as percentages, so I had to work toward that,” he said. “I’ve always depended on outworking people, so I always have to be in better condition than them. The older you get, the more you have to concentrate on your body. I am who I am. I’m not going to come back and have 14 different things I’m going to perfect. I’m just continuing to perfect my craft – shooting – and try to get a little bit better at everything.”

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