Tolliver had almost no expectations of doing anything coming into this season; he was the last one to make the roster over Damion James and James Anderson. However, due to injuries, he found himself in the rotation for most of the season and was actually a positive asset for the Hawks in the playoffs.
The stats aren’t really kind to Tolliver and there’s a reason why: he wasn’t exactly a star player. For most of the year, he struggled with his shot and wasn’t a good enough of a rebounder to warrant him getting more minutes. At the time, the Hawks were mostly healthy in the front court, meaning his minutes were few and far between.
After Zaza suffered his Achilles injury, though, Tolliver’s minutes increased. Before the All-Star break, Anthony only played in 34 of 51 possible games and was only averaging 12 minutes per game when he did play. After the break, he played in almost every game and was averaging 20 minutes.
That added playing time reflected well in his numbers. In the 28 games he played after the All-Star game, he had a true-shooting of 59.4% (!!!), he was turning the ball over less, and the Hawks were pulling even when he was on the floor. That may not sound great, but remember, he was the last guy to make the roster out of camp.
One of the biggest wonders in sports is watching a player genuinely improve at something. I remember watching Tolliver last year in Minnesota and really didn’t get a good vibe from his defensive game. I asked Zach Harper, who covers the Wolves, about this and he gave me even poorer reviews.
That really wasn’t the case this year with the Hawks, though. He wasn’t a defensive anchor, but the Hawks were better on defense when he was on the floor by over two points per 100 possessions. With Josh Smith and Al Horford often backing him up, Tolliver found himself in a much more enviable defensive position than he was used to in Minnesota. While he never had to lockdown another player, him being a neutral defender that could guard both forward positions meant that the Horford and Smith were able to play more loosely than with someone like Stevenson or Korver occupying the three spot. The frontcourt trio of Smith, Tolliver, and Horford had a defensive rating of 96.5, a more than five-point improvement from the team’s overall rating of 101.8. (according to NBA.com/stats)
All of that considered, you have to wonder why Tolliver didn’t get more playing time in the postseason. He only played 68 total minutes, but made a huge impact in that time. He was 7-for-11 on three-pointers and his on/off differential for the playoffs was 26.3. TWENTY-SIX POINT THREE! I doubt that he would have continued to shoot that great in more minutes, but for the reasons in the paragraph above, one has to consider that his defensive impact would have continued to be felt in extended minutes.
I feel that in the right role, Anthony can definitely be a key contributor on a great team. He demonstrated in this season that when given the minutes, he can make a positive impact as your third guy off the bench. If he’s not back next season, I’m definitely going to miss making sarcastic “Hey, Tolliver can cut it to 20!” remarks to Robby and Raj at Philips Arena.
BEST GAME: A 107-96 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, or for what will forever be known to me as the “Anthony Tolliver game”. Tolli scored 21 points on 10 shots, including an impressive 5-for-7 display from behind the arc.
BEST HIGHLIGHT: This is from a regular season game against the Pacers. Tolliver performs a very passable imitation of Josh Smith.
AVERAGE GAME GRADE: 3.8/10
SEASON GRADE: 5/10