The Trail Blazers re-tooled roster for the 2019-20 NBA season will require significant contributions from unlikely places in order to replicate last year’s memorable run to the Western Conference Finals. Youngsters like like Zach Collins and Anfernee Simons are on the precipice of major roles. On the other side of the coin, Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore will get a final run at justifying their lofty price points. Lost in the summer shuffle: the veteran presence of Anthony Tolliver.
Tolliver, a 34-year-old floor-spacing forward, will re-join the franchise that gave him a brief chance to crack the roster a decade ago. Over the course of his career, the Missouri native has repeatedly found ways to stick in the NBA. His outside shooting prowess has elevated his status as more teams rely on frontcourt players to space the floor. One year removed from shooting 43.6 percent from beyond the arc, Tolliver brings a sorely-missed trait to a forward rotation that relied upon defense-first contributions from both Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu in recent years. Along with his favorable skillset, Tolliver’s experience headlines his value for the Blazers.
Outside of Damian Lillard’s example-driven culture of winning, the Blazers have built a sturdy foundation on coach Terry Stotts’ expectation of accountability. In an era of unprecedented player empowerment, Stotts has maintained a no-nonsense approach without sacrificing strong bonds with players. Tasked with building rotations with a plethora of new faces, Tolliver’s experience as a journeymen could place him ahead of the pack early in the season.
Undrafted out of Creighton, Tolliver has managed to cling to squads captained by the following coaches:
- Rick Adelman
- Steve Clifford
- Stan Van Gundy
- Dave Joerger
- Tom Thibodeau
At the bottom of rosters, especially as a journeyman, a player’s performance in practice is paramount. Since arriving in Portland, Tolliver has explained how his consistent approach has allowed him to carve out a lengthy career. Mario Hezonja possesses noteworthy upside, but Tolliver’s experience closely aligns with Stotts’ track record of expectations.
Earlier in the week, our own Dave Deckard touched on Tolliver’s modest billing when evaluating the Blazers’ depth.
Some will argue that Anthony Tolliver belongs in this category. With competition at his position including Skal Labissiere, Mario Hezonja, and an aging, injured version of Pau Gasol, he’ll get the chance for minutes he didn’t see in Minnesota. Still, his performance was short of Curry’s last season and was nowhere near Turner or Harkless. He has the potential to grow into a role, but putting Tolliver here now doesn’t seem warranted without further evidence.
It is tough to argue with that projection, but that shouldn’t completely diminish Tolliver’s presence on the roster. Zach Collins, Skal Labissiere, Nassir Little, and Hezonja could glean valuable information from Tolliver’s experience.
A look back at the Blazers’ recent history presents an example of the importance that a lightly-featured Tolliver could bring: Earl Watson. Like Tolliver, Watson arrived in Portland at age 34 after bouncing around the NBA for several years. Watson played in just 24 regular season games and amassed 12 total points in the process. Regardless of those returns, Watson left a lasting impression on the Blazers’ culture.
Mike Richman covered the highlights of Watson’s tenure in Portland in an article for The Oregonian. From film sessions with Lillard and McCollum to planting the seeds for a team-only San Diego trip, Watson’s demeanor was contagious.
McCollum had this to say about the guidance he received from Watson:
“He cared about the game and he was a great locker room guy,” McCollum said. “Somebody I could talk to and kind of bounce questions off of. He’s a really good influence.”
Lillard echoed the same thoughts when asked about Watson’s presence:
“He was the first person to kind of push me in that direction to be a leader and being vocal and taking control,” Lillard said. “Now I see what he was trying to tell me three years ago.”
Tolliver should not be expected to embrace a role based solely on mentorship, nor should he infringe on a Lillard-led locker room. Instead, his presence at the practice facility and inside position-specific meetings should provide wisdom for the Blazers’ youngsters.
Whether it is under the bright lights of the Moda Center or in the confines of the practice facility, Tolliver has the potential to outperform his modest preseason projections.