Minnesota Timberwolves: Anthony Tolliver is an upgrade for the Wolves

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 2: Anthony Tolliver #44 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Copyright 2012 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 2: Anthony Tolliver #44 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Copyright 2012 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ reported addition of forward Anthony Tolliver will be an upgrade for the Wolves bench heading into next season.

If there’s someone out there that doesn’t like Anthony Tolliver, then show me that man/woman.

Tolliver, who played with the Timberwolves from 2010-12, announced his first tour of Minnesota via The Decision, Part Deux on YouTube back in the summer of 2010. It just so happened to be right after LeBron James hosted his original The Decision broadcast with Jim Gray.

Once again, Tolliver decided to wait for The King to make his decision before he made his. And once again, Tolly picked Minnesota.

Here’s what Tolliver posted on Twitter Monday evening, rebroadcasting his “classic” video from eight years ago.

In order to properly evaluate Tolliver’s addition, it’s important to include the context of Nemanja Bjelica’s exit.

Bjelica was a restricted free agent until the Timberwolves pulled his qualifying offer earlier on Monday afternoon, just prior to the Tolliver news hitting the Twittersphere. That means that his 20.5 minutes per game from a year ago will be nearly directly replaced by Tolliver. (For the record, I placed Tolliver at No. 4 on my list of forwards for the Wolves to pursue in free agency.)

Similar to the 30-year-old Bjelica, Tolliver, who recently turned 33 years old, is primarily a power forward who can play short minutes at the three in big lineups. He’s an inferior rebounder and passer to Bjelia, but is otherwise the better and more efficient offensive player.

While Bjelica’s 41.5 percent mark on threes this season was easily a career-high and he finally began to show comfort with launching 3-pointers at the NBA level, Tolliver’s mark of 43.6 percent was his own career-best, and his 37.6 percent career mark is superior to Bjelly’s.

Tolliver will carry a lower turnover rate to Bjelica, as his role will essentially be that of a spot-up shooter, while the Serbian handled the ball and was featured as a cutter more often in the Timberwolves offense. In fact, 77.3 percent of Tolliver’s shot attempts last year in Detroit were from beyond the arc.

While Tolliver is theoretically more flexible defensively, Bjelica was actually an underrated defender who didn’t make very many mistakes. His size and frame, which at 6-foot-10 was larger than the 6-foot-8 Bjelica, couple with his understanding of positioning and spacing, made him a solid on-ball defender and a good disrupter in the pick-and-roll game.

But Tolliver is one of the league’s best at drawing charges, as featured in this FiveThirtyEight piece from the 2016-17 season, when Tolliver was playing in Sacramento.

"[In 2016-17] Tolliver has been almost automatic, drawing 10 charge calls in 12 collisions for an eye-popping 83 percent success rate. He’s won five more calls than you’d expect the average player to earn in those same 12 situations."

In terms of sheer numbers, Tolliver drew 18 charges last season, which is only one more than Karl-Anthony Towns. But Tolliver was a bench player, of course, and only Ersan Ilyasova, Quincy Acy, and Marreese Speights played fewer minutes and drew more charges than Tolly. It’s clearly a skill, and the Wolves will be glad to have it next season.

Tolliver is an upgrade over Bjelica largely because he won’t need the ball in his hands as often to be successful; despite shooting over 41 percent on threes, only 49.3 percent of Bjelica’s shot attempts came from outside the arc. Tolliver knows his role, and that’s largely to shoot threes.

One surprising number to point out: Bjelica’s free throw rate (the number of free throws attempted per field goal attempt) was just .121 last season, and it sits at .167 for his career. Tolliver’s? It was .282 last year and .244 for his career. Despite shooting far more long-range jumpers than Bjelly, Tolliver still managed to get to the line more often (exactly one attempt more per game, in fact), where he converted at a 79.7 percent clip.

Tolliver is the quintessential “know your role” player, and as long as Tom Thibodeau continues to stagger his rotation in a way that leaves one of Jimmy Butler or Towns on the floor at almost all times, Tolliver’s role as a spot-up shooter and all-around solid player will be the perfect compliment to the Wolves’ high-usage quartet of Butler, KAT, Jeff Teague, and Andrew Wiggins.

Next: The Timber-Bulls re-creation is still underway...

The Timberwolves still have a couple of roster spots to fill, and not a lot of cash left to do it. It’ll be interesting to see how they go about rounding out the bench with only a sliver of the mid-level exception and veteran minimum contracts to work with.