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Juan Toscano-Anderson is the quintessential utility man for the Warriors

Toscano-Anderson’s versatility on both ends is what the Warriors will need this upcoming season.

2021 Play-In Tournament - Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

The allure of Juan Toscano-Anderson among Warriors fans may seem particularly odd from an outsider’s perspective. While he profiles as a prototypical wing — 6-foot-6 in height and 6-foot-10 in wingspan — nothing else is exceedingly remarkable about his natural talents: athletic, but not transcendently so; speedy, but far from the zero-to-sixty-in-three-seconds kind; strong and robust, but not the kind of freight-train power that can truck over just about anyone.

But when you consider the Warriors’ dynastic past, someone of Toscano-Anderson’s profile makes all the sense in the world. He is the latest in the line of beloved franchise role-players who enthusiastically espouse the team’s philosophy, accept their place in it, and has truly bathed themselves in its rich culture. The Shaun Livingstons and Andre Iguodalas of yesterday find themselves reincarnated — in more ways than one — in the present day visage of Toscano-Anderson.

Iguodala, in particular, has been a popular comparison for Toscano-Anderson. Both are similar in size, and in several respects possess identical traits. While Toscano-Anderson still has a ways to go to match the marquee reputation and accomplishments of his predecessor-turned-teammate, you can’t help but notice the striking similarities.

Watch this series of clips of Toscano-Anderson on defense:

Iguodala is often touted as the undisputed master of the strip block, with an uncanny sense of timing and accuracy on swipe-downs. He seems to always pull off such risky feats without fouling, perhaps basketball’s most blatant example of getting away with theft scot-free. Based on the clips above, Toscano-Anderson has inherited Iguodala’s penchant for timely strips, which were made possible by Toscano-Anderson doing an exceptional job of staying in front of his man and refusing to concede an inch of space.

While Toscano-Anderson isn’t a counting-stats machine defensively — he averaged a mere 0.8 steals and only 0.5 blocks last season — the advanced defensive metrics were kind to him: FiveThirtyEight’s defensive RAPTOR (+2.2), BBall Index’s defensive LEBRON (+1.76), Basketball Reference’s defensive BPM (+2.2), and Dunks & Threes’ defensive EPM (+1.5) all rated him as a plus-defender.

Toscano-Anderson is both a fundamentally sound stopper and a rough-and-tumble defender. He touts knowledge of basic defensive principles and knows how to stay schematically disciplined, yet is also not afraid to go toe-to-toe in a proverbial mud fight. He is capable of switching up and down the positional spectrum, keeping up with the nimblest of perimeter creators while holding his own against larger low-post behemoths. Individual assignments rarely flummox him; he flashes good use of his feet and rarely gets them crossed up, combining them with hip fluidity that allows him to open his stance seamlessly.

Toscano-Anderson’s motor is infectious and easily appreciable, especially when a defensive talisman such as Draymond Green is there to direct traffic, bark out orders, and anchor the defense alongside Toscano-Anderson as an unlikely yet highly effective tandem.

Lineups with both Green and Toscano-Anderson on the floor posted a defensive rating of 108.0, a number that would be equivalent to the 5th-best defense during the regular season. The combination is one that has proven to be effective, and it speaks to the high degree of understanding Toscano-Anderson possesses as a defender. Green often has the tendency to be firm and tough on his troops when there are mistakes made, but Toscano-Anderson isn’t someone he has to worry about most of the time.

Perhaps the main hallmark of Toscano-Anderson’s defensive ability is his hustle, which can manifest itself in several ways: screen navigation, hard close-outs, passing-lane interceptions, chase-down blocks, and sticking to off-ball movers and cutters like glue. There are the occasional warts, but even the most elite of defenders stumble and fall at times. Toscano-Anderson won’t make every rotation, stop every attempt to attack the rim, or bother every shot with a close-out — but not for a lack of trying.

The defensive duo of Toscano-Anderson and Green certainly was a successful formula. Adding Stephen Curry to the equation transforms it into a potent trio on both ends of the floor. Lineups with Curry, Green, and Toscano-Anderson outscored opponents by nearly 14 points per 100 possessions — a testament to the fit of Toscano-Anderson within the Warriors’ overall ethos.

“Strength in Numbers” may have been the war cry of the Warriors throughout their dynastic run, but the unofficial one might as well be “Know how to play with Stephen Curry.” It might seem antithetical to have an egalitarian offense that is highly contingent on the talents and skill-set of a singular force, but they are by no means mutually exclusive. Toscano-Anderson — like Iguodala and Livingston before him — is a testament to that.

Until the return of Iguodala, perhaps no one else on the team whose name isn’t Draymond Green or Kevon Looney was proficient in using Curry’s otherworldly gravitational force to their advantage. Toscano-Anderson was not only aware of such a force; he also thrived on it. He was a willing screen-setter for Curry, knowing that by simply setting a pick for one of the most dangerous offensive players in league history, he could generate scoring opportunities for himself. Slipping picks off of transition ball-screens, split-actions, and down-screens boosted Toscano-Anderson’s rim-attacking prowess, which translated to a rim FG% of 76% — 90th percentile, per Cleaning The Glass.

Pairing up with the most efficient pick-and-roll ball-handler last season in Curry — as well as a similar ball-handling analogue such as Jordan Poole — often garnered Toscano-Anderson points in the form of dribble-hand-off/screen-and-roll possessions, whether they came in the form of an attack down the middle, or through empty-side pick-and-rolls where the absence of help from the strong-side corner exponentially increased the action’s potency.

In an offense where basketball-IQ and passing acumen are musts, Toscano-Anderson prominently stands out. Not only is he a thread that makes up the offensive tapestry, he is also someone who can weave it all together to form a cohesive and exquisite picture. Play-connecting is a rare skill that is valued throughout the league, but the Warriors arguably are the team that demands it more than any other. Toscano-Anderson provides such play-connecting ability in high amounts.

Toscano-Anderson’s penchant for making the correct read in a short amount of processing time was a trait no one else besides Curry and Green could replicate. His short-roll playmaking during 4-on-3 advantage situations stood out as prime examples.

Not to mention, the way he finds off-ball operators and cutters on the move is convincing enough to give Toscano-Anderson the aura of a seasoned veteran, when in truth, he has only spent time as a Warrior — and as an NBA professional — for a mere two seasons.

There is an element of flair and pizazz to Toscano-Anderson’s game. It was a pleasure to watch him perform his high-flying rim attacks, precision passing, and high motor and effort on both ends of the floor. But none generated the kind of entertainment more so than his skill of running fake hand-offs.

A sense of timing is needed in order to perfect a fake hand-off, and it was widely considered a feat that only Green could pull off. To everyone’s surprise, Toscano-Anderson — perhaps learning from Green’s example — was equally adept.

Toscano-Anderson hasn’t won pure statistical contests, nor will he win them anytime soon, but that is why his case requires context and nuance. Averaging 5.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.8 assists does not do justice to his contributions on both ends, although an uptick in several of those stats would be a welcome development.

Shooting-wise, Toscano-Anderson was efficient, even if most of it was due to leveraging the elite talent surrounding him. Nevertheless, shooting splits of 58/40/71, an effective field-goal percentage (eFG%) of 66.7%, and 67.6% True Shooting are nothing to scoff at, especially when his three-point shooting unexpectedly shot up to above-average levels.

The volume is nothing special (1.7 attempts per game), and his career free-throw percentage of 69.4% suggests that his success beyond the arc could very well be an anomalous occurrence — but Toscano-Anderson making his open threes when opponents left him alone raised his stock exponentially.

Approximately 72% of Toscano-Anderson’s threes last season were classified as “wide open,” with the nearest defender being at least 6 feet away. Out of such shots, he drilled nearly 44% of them.

Toscano-Anderson’s burgeoning portfolio as the Warriors’ quintessential utility man shouldn’t be ignored. His defensive competency, playmaking chops, and an understanding of how to play alongside the team’s main weapons should place him on a higher pedestal than where he stood the past couple of seasons.

Even if he doesn’t command starting minutes, he should garner consideration as part of the Warriors’ closing squad. As aforementioned, lineups involving the trio of Curry, Green, and Toscano-Anderson were highly effective; combining them with Poole and Andrew Wiggins could be worth a look. The offensive potency of such a group could be explosive, while the lengthy wing defense of Toscano-Anderson and Wiggins and the leadership and tactical genius of Green could shore up the deficiencies of its two guards, at least until the eventual return of Klay Thompson.

Toscano-Anderson has proven himself to be quite a critical component of the organization, not just on the floor but also off it. Destiny seemed to have played a role in him finding his way to his hometown team, a prospect that can place enormous amounts of pressure to perform and deliver.

But Toscano-Anderson hasn’t wilted and shied away. Embracing his role as the Warriors’ new-age beacon of versatility is something that wasn’t widely expected — but for the legions of Warriors fans everywhere, it’s a development that has been wholeheartedly welcomed with open arms.

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