As every exhausted fan is aware, the merry feeling of Minnesota breaking its long playoff drought last season was quickly extinguished this summer. With Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau taking turns at stabbing holes through the franchise, any high-flying fans were quickly brought down by some severe turbulence.
Seven games into the season, and the Timberwolves have looked anything but cohesive. The inconsistencies of a disastrous offseason have carried over into the regular season.
Exciting wins against the Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Lakers being dampened by brutal losses to the Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas Mavericks. Boos and jeers have rained down on the Target Center court more than once, for good reason; it’s often been a miserable brand of basketball those fans have had to withstand.
Throughout all of this erratic on and off-court action, there has been one steady presence: freshly-signed forward Anthony Tolliver. Throughout his new team’s first seven games, the 33-year-old has provided exactly what Wolves fans expected when he inked his 1-year, $5.75 million deal.
Tolliver entered the Timberwolves fold after a career-year for the Detroit Pistons last season. He averaged 8.9 points and 3.1 rebounds while shooting 43.6 percent from behind the 3-point arc, the latter ranked him as the 10th best long-range shooter by percentage in the entire NBA. On top of that, he was a sneaky-good defender. According to Synergy Sports Tech, Tolliver’s opponents failed to shoot over 40 percent from the field in spot up, pick-and-roll, isolation and post-up situations last season, which accounted for 84.8 percent of his overall defensive plays.
In the first handful of outings in his return to the Twin Cities (he first played for Minnesota from 2010 to 2012) Tolliver has been that same two-way superglue that has made him an ultra-valuable bench commodity.
In 20.4 minutes per game, the shiny-headed role player is averaging 7.4 points and 3.1 rebounds. In the small sample size, he is also burying a blistering 48.3 percent of his 4.1 3-point attempts a night. He is a pure shooter, with a stunning 85.3 percent of his total field goals coming from deep, the highest percentage in the league from players who have attempted over 20 3-pointers.
With the confidence of a stellar shooting season in 2017-18 in his pockets, Tolliver’s shining faith in his jumper is blinding:
Tolly is a prototypical knock-down shooter. His feet are constantly set in shooting form, his hands are always up and ready to catch and fire away and, despite his ripening age, he is the quickest off-ball mover on the Timberwolves squad.
Last season, the Minnesota reserves ranked 28th in both 3-point makes and takes. So far in the 2018-19 campaign, the Wolves are ranked eighth in made triples and ninth in attempts. It isn’t just the 6-foot-8 forward that has improved this number, but adding Tolliver to the second unit has been the biggest reason Minnesota have finally caught up with the modern, 3-point-jacking times.
On the other end of the floor Tolliver has been a beacon of consistency in a season that has been far from stellar. No matter who he matches up with, AT holds his own, always. He is usually tasked with guarding power forwards, but moves his feet well enough to withstand the athletic small forwards of the league, and has a defensive IQ that allows him to competently compete with big, bulky centers.
He has averaged a modest 0.7 blocks per game thus far, which would tie his career-high if he can maintain it. His willingness to put his body on the line and break up a play also have him leading Minnesota in charges drawn (3) — a number that only seven players in the league can boast about bettering.
He registered two blocks in the crucial win over LeBron James and his Lakers, and they both perfectly encapsulate his defensive mindset and skill set. On the first swat, he shields a LeBron cut, stopping him from getting an easy slashing layup, and denies Lance Stephenson at the rim. He follows that up later in the game by blowing up a Rajon Rondo layup, who had left Gorgui Dieng in his wake after a switch.
Check them out below:
With his ability to make an impact on both ends of the floor, it is no surprise that the numbers are supporting Tolliver’s glue-guy excellence. The Timberwolves’ net rating is +12.8 when Tolliver is on the floor, despite posting a -3.6 rating over the course of the season.
He is partnering franchise centerpiece Karl-Anthony Towns even better than Taj Gibson at the moment, which will perhaps lead to more playing time next to the All-Star center. Gibson and Towns are posting a horrific -8.8 net rating on the floor together, while Tolliver and KAT are putting up a +2.9 mark, per NBA stats.
With former backup four Nemanja Bjelica thriving in his new role out in Sacramento, it is easy to be jealous at what the Timberwolves have lost. However, Bjelica’s biggest bugaboo was his inability to consistently perform at a solid level. Tolliver proved last season he is as consistent as they come, and he hasn’t let himself slip this season either.
He may not be flashy, but Anthony Tolliver is certainly reliable, and that’s exactly what the rocky Timberwolves culture needs right now.