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Juan Toscano-Anderson, exemplified in four ways

With his number being called against the Sixers, Toscano-Anderson lit a spark through his hustle on both ends of the floor.

Philadelphia 76ers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Juan Toscano-Anderson wasn’t seeing as much burn as he was getting a season ago.

He averaged nearly 21 minutes per game during the 2020-21 season, emerging as a role-player centerpiece for the Golden State Warriors. The latest in a storied line of versatile, jack-of-all-trades cogs in the Warriors machinery, Toscano-Anderson proved that he belonged in the NBA. More importantly, he proved that he fit right in with the Warriors’ complex ethos.

It garnered him a well-deserved guaranteed contract — to the tune of two years, at the $1.7 million minimum — which secured his place for at least another season. The allure of playing with the hometown team, along with local legends such as Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, was a prospect too enticing to pass up on. It was something out of a storybook: Dreams do come true, and they can happen right in your own backyard.

Toscano-Anderson’s star shone brightest out of the supporting cast last season, mostly because he wasn’t lost. He could play off of Curry’s gravity. His mentality was akin to that of Green’s: tough, rugged, and persistent. He could pass. He could switch up and down the positional spectrum. His energy knew no bounds.

He could even shoot the ball — showing flashes of spacing equity, a commodity that was scarce last season.

Things have been a little different this season for Toscano-Anderson, at least in terms of how much time he’s been seeing the floor. With the addition of veterans such as Otto Porter Jr and Nemanja Bjelica, the return of his spiritual predecessor in Andre Iguodala, and the emergence of a fellow G League talent in Gary Payton II, Toscano-Anderson has been somewhat relegated to the back end of the bench — which can have a profound effect on someone who has successfully stayed in the league and is trying to maintain the status quo.

Toscano-Anderson is averaging close to 15 minutes this season. As a result of limited minutes and limited touches, some of his numbers have declined: shooting splits of 58/40/71 last season have turned into 50/33/82 this season; his rebounding has been cut by half (from 4.4 to 2.5 per game); his assists have declined slightly (from 2.8 to 2.2 per game).

His outside shooting hasn’t gotten off to a great start — his 8-of-24 clip (33.3%) on threes is giving credence to the notion that his 40.2% clip last season may have been an anomaly.

But Toscano-Anderson’s impact on the game has never solely been about the raw numbers. Whenever his number’s called, his impact is immediately profound. No matter what form it may take, his imprint is loud and clear, all laid bare for everyone to see and feel.

“Juan, a week ago, was out of the rotation,” Steve Kerr said. “ It’s so great as a coach to know you can always count on a player, like Juan, who could start, he could be your eighth man, he could be your 12th man, but you always know what you’re getting.”

Against the Philadelphia 76ers — who rattled off 61 points in the first half against a lackadaisical defense and a lethargic offense — Toscano-Anderson most definitely played a role closer to that of an eighth man. His presence was a shot in the arm of a team that did not have it’s usual two-way sharpness to begin the game.

Toscano-Anderson provided clarity whenever there was none. Where there were gaps to be filled, he filled them snugly. He thrived as a scorer on the margins, feeding off of Curry’s gravitational pull on fake hand-offs, or slipping wide down-screens for Jordan Poole, who’s increasingly garnering Curry-esque coverages from defenses.

His usage as a sneak scoring threat — made plausible by the Sixers putting the slower Andre Drummond on him — made a significant difference. Drummond was hard pressed to defend the fake hand-off, while a momentary lapse in taking stock of where his man is results in Toscano-Anderson sneaking behind and getting the and-one.

His offensive hustle is arguably the most eye-catching aspect of his performance. Toscano-Anderson sprints in transition; he knows the value of taking advantage of a non-set defense. With his versatility and mobility being key advantages over opponents’ more traditional lineups with traditional bigs, he knows he has a leg up in contests of speed.

Defenses treating him as a minimal threat in the half-court are also victimized by his persistence and energy — personified through explosive put-back dunks.

While scoring is a marginal but welcomed aspect of his game, Toscano-Anderson’s ability to pass and serve as a play connector is the skill that makes him a perfect cog for this particular machinery. Just like Green and Iguodala, he is an extension of the coach’s will, whose tactics and game plans are made possible through Toscano-Anderson’s presence on the floor.

Toscano-Anderson distributes the ball with a deft touch. He whips passes in transition. He makes sound decisions in the short roll. But from a technical and schematic perspective, his most impressive passes were from the low-post, finding cutters in the Warriors’ bread-and-butter “modified” split action.

Toscano-Anderson has played 250 minutes this season — 110 of which were with Curry. During those minutes, lineups involving the duo are outscoring opponents by nearly 17 points per 100 possessions. His ability to replicate what the likes of Green and Iguodala can do — execute dribble hand-offs (real or fake), finding Curry on dive cuts or off down-screens in split action, etc. — makes Toscano-Anderson an organic fit beside Curry.

Perhaps most important of all, Toscano-Anderson is rarely compromised defensively. Schematic awareness and basic understanding of team concepts — and being able to execute them at a level that is required to maintain the best defense in the league — is something that’s in his wheelhouse.

But the little things he does on defense are also quite apparent. He saves possessions and prevents what would be otherwise surefire scoring trips by opponents into successful stops. The beauty of his defense is seeing the tangibility of his intangibles.

Seeing Toscano-Anderson being “demoted” to a virtual 10th or 11th man off the bench may be jarring for some, especially with just how much of a fit he is for this team — schematically and culturally. But the fact that a player of his acumen and skill being a deep bench option is a luxury that Kerr and the Warriors are more than happy to possess.

As for Toscano-Anderson, he continues to take his situation in stride, knowing that when his number’s called, his minutes on the floor will most certainly be of quality.

“(I’m) just being a professional,” Toscano-Anderson said. “Like I said before, I’m a grown-ass man and things aren’t always going to go my way or the way that I want them to and life is about how you respond to different situations, adversity, whatever you want to call it. I just always try to be the best responder to situations.

“I don’t really care about minutes, whether I played this day or that day. Yes, everybody wants to play more but all you can do is control what you can control, and approach the situation in the right way.”

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