Playing for his ninth NBA team in nine seasons, Kings forward Anthony Tolliver has learned to adapt to new coaching staffs and their concepts.
“I’ve changed enough systems in my career that changing systems is not a big deal,” he said. “But getting used to other players, and them getting used to me – that always takes time.”
It’s a primary reason Tolliver, 31, gives for why it took him some time to settle in with Sacramento. Because of a logjam in the Kings’ frontcourt, Tolliver was buried on the depth chart early in the season, appearing in just eight of the first 20 games. But his role has expanded greatly in the past month.
Over his past 17 games, Tolliver is averaging 25.6 minutes and 8.8 points while shooting 46.5 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from 3-point range – all numbers above his career averages.
Two of his three starts this season have come in the last two games. In Tuesday night’s 100-94 win over the Detroit Pistons, Tolliver’s 17 points matched his season high and trailed only DeMarcus Cousins’ 24 among Kings players.
First month I felt like a mentor only. But like I said, that’s part of it. I wasn’t tripping. I wasn’t feeling bad for myself. I just continued to work.
Anthony Tolliver, Kings forward
“A.T. was hooping tonight,” Cousins said after Tuesday’s game. “He’s a true professional. He comes in ready to work when his name is called upon.”
Tolliver expected to hear his name more at the start of the season after signing a two-year deal with the Kings and enjoying a strong preseason. But with the Kings rotating bigs Kosta Koufos and Willie-Cauley Stein alongside Cousins, and forward Matt Barnes getting consistent minutes, Tolliver played sparingly for the first month.
“Coach was still trying to figure out what rotations he wanted and what guys are going to play and different stuff,” Tolliver said. “I just kind of got the short end of the stick at the beginning, which is a part of it, and I just kept working and waiting for the opportunity.”
Billed as a stretch-four, the 6-foot-8 Tolliver was expected to bring the Kings an outside shooting dimension at power forward. He got off to a cold start, making just eight of his first 37 3-point attempts (21.6 percent). Since Dec. 20, though, Tolliver is 24 for 45 from long range and is tied with guard Garrett Temple for the team’s best 3-point percentage (39.0).
“Percentages always work themselves out,” said Tolliver, a career 35.9 percent 3-point shooter. “The trick is trying to get to where it’s consistent on a nightly basis. You want to be somebody that’s dependable. And I feel like after getting into this rotation, guys are really depending on me to knock down shots when I get them.”
Coach Dave Joerger said he believes Tolliver has benefited from working with the second unit, especially point guard Ty Lawson.
“I just think he’s been able to find a rhythm knowing he’s going to play, and play with a group,” Joerger said. “Especially when he plays with Ty, he’s able to play a spread pick-and-roll, get in the lane and play off of our big, and then get kick-outs and spot-up (shots) and play with a little pace.”
Joerger acknowledged Tuesday his starting lineup the past two games, featuring Tolliver and Temple, “hurts our second unit.” But he called the lineup “a good group” and did not rule out continuing to use it.
He’s a true professional. He comes in ready to work when his name is called upon.
DeMarcus Cousins, Kings center, on Anthony Tolliver
While Tolliver said he has no preference between a starting and reserve role, he agreed that consistency has been a key to his recent improvement. At the start of the season, the veteran made it clear he joined the Kings to have an impact on the court, not just as a mentor. The past month has been more reflective of that goal.
“First month I felt like a mentor only,” Tolliver said. “But like I said, that’s part of it. I wasn’t tripping. I wasn’t feeling bad for myself. I just continued to work.
“I still feel like I have plenty of fight in me and plenty of time to help teams win games, and this last month has kind of shown that.”