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Juan Toscano-Anderson and small ball: what we learned about the Dubs this week

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The Dubs were forced to go small, and Toscano-Anderson became an unsung hero.

Boston Celtics v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

And just like that, Juan Toscano-Anderson feels like an integral part of the Golden State Warriors squad. Just like that, he seems like the closest thing the Warriors have found to replacing the intangibles, intelligence, length, and defensive disruption of Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. Just like that, a two-way contract feels like a player to prioritize going forward.

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Perhaps Oakland’s own Toscano-Anderson will fade back into the background, and disappear from the NBA before his first big contract. But this week the Warriors found out that the career journeyman can, at his peak, be a high-quality role player. And more importantly, they were reminded of just how good they can be when they go small.

Their hand was forced there. Alen Smailagić is rehabbing a meniscal tear, and Marquese Chriss broke his leg early in the season. James Wiseman joined them on the shelf of injuries a few days ago with a sprained wrist, and Kevon Looney made it a clean sweep of broken centers when he sprained his ankle during Tuesday’s loss to the Boston Celtics.

Toscano-Anderson was pressed into action against the Celtics, and led all the reserves with 27 minutes, during which he shined. While the rest of the bench struggled, the Bay Area product poured in 16 points an 6-for-9 shooting, while splashing in all three of his shots from beyond the arc.

And against the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, in a game the Warriors dominated 147-116, Toscano-Anderson was given the starting nod. His response? 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting, a team-high 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks, and a team-high plus-minus of +26.

Those aren’t flash in the pan performances, especially when you consider how strong the defense was in both games.

Score one for the no-stats All-Stars, even though Toscano-Anderson has been filling up the stat sheet. That’s added gravy on top of the meal, but not the substance of his game. The meat of it all is his ability to simply play good, smart basketball that helps a team win games. That is the point, after all.

Take it from coach Steve Kerr who, while kind, is never in the business of doling out undeserved high praise. After Thursday’s game, Kerr said of Toscano-Anderson, “I’m a huge fan. I just love his innate feel for the game. His toughness, his competitiveness, his energy, his joy. Guys on the team love, love Juan.”

But while Toscano-Anderson has been the face of the week, it’s the style the Warriors have been forced to play that is most relevant. Down all four centers and one of their natural power forwards on Thursday, the Warriors were forced to play small for 48 minutes, with no one on their roster being as tall as Luka Dončić, Dallas’ starting point guard.

In basketball, smallness can breed creativity and freedom. There’s more room to operate, and less rigidity. Kerr said the only times he called a play all game was when they were coming out of timeouts. There was flow and fluidity as players pushed the ball, ran to the open space, and fired at will.

Kerr admitted as much, saying, “This style, honestly, fits everyone better ... I think everyone is more comfortable in a small game where there’s a lot of space.”

That was on full display. It was true Warriors basketball. The ball moved, the players cut, and everyone ran. They had a stunning 37 assists, and made 22 shots from beyond the arc. They had 24 fast break points, 54 points in the paint, and 66 points from distance. It was balanced and dynamic, in part because it was loose and free.

Kerr has talked all year long about needing to simplify things, while stressing how complex it is to play next to Curry (an off ball superstar), and Green (a leading playmaker from the frontcourt). Going small allowed the Dubs to play pickup basketball in the best way possible.

Looney and Wiseman still figure to be critical parts of the team, and the Warriors will need them to find success against larger squads. Not all teams have centers who would rather be 25 feet from the hoop than five feet from it.

But this should be a critical moment for Kerr and the Warriors. Their offense flows best when small. It’s no surprise that Toscano-Anderson excelled. It’s no coincidence that Kelly Oubre Jr., had the best game of his career, with 40 points on 14-for-21 shooting. It’s not just good luck that Green dished out 15 assists.

And so the Warriors will move forward, hopefully with a renewed sense of what their best lineups are. Looney is a very good player, and Wiseman looks to be a star in the making. Toscano-Anderson may still be searching for his first guaranteed NBA contract, but he’s proving to be a key — and more importantly, the lineups he’s been a part of are the most dynamic path forward for the Dubs.

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