As Anthony Tolliver’s two-year, $6 million contract with the Phoenix Suns might indicate, he’s not expected to simply slide into the role previously held by Channing Frye, who took a four-year, $32 million deal to join the Orlando Magic. Tolliver will, however, bring the same pick-and-pop threat that has made Frye’s career.
In reciting the Tolliver agreement with the Suns on Wednesday morning, I briefly touched on what the team’s incoming forward will bring. Shooting, obviously. For more on that, we turn to Austin Clemens and newly-launched FanSided basketball analytics blog, Nylon Calculus, for some shot charts.
Anthony Tolliver shot-chart, 2013-14
Channing Frye shot-chart, 2013-14
Tolliver stacks up to Frye as a pick-and-roll player, scoring 1.16 points in those situations, which ranked 22nd overall last season, but the volume of those opportunities was extremely limited. Frye, whose reputation made it necessary to get open via the pick-and-roll, scored 1.18 points on pick-and-roll plays, according to Synergy Sports.
Where Tolliver really stood out is in his spot-up shooting. He scored 1.16 points per possession on spot-ups to Frye’s 0.97 and was used more in the corners as second-unit defenses struggled to keep a body on him. The good news, even if teams learn about him quickly as a member of the Suns, is that Tolliver was exceptional last year on the sides of the arc. That’s right where he’ll find himself working with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.
Tolliver shot 309 times last season, and 80 percent were three-pointers. Frye brought much more versatility, shooting the three 55 percent of the time on his 778 attempts. He had developed a pump-fake, one-dribble, pull-up series that saw defenders flying past him. He also was willing to roll into the mid-range on the right corner especially, as the shot-chart indicates.
Context is important. Frye was likely a big part of opposing scouting reports as the starter. Tolliver likely had it easier. He spent the majority of his minutes in the second-most-used lineup for the Bobcats that placed him at small forward alongside Josh McRoberts and big man Al Jefferson, both of whom did their own damage; McRoberts stretched the floor while Jefferson sucked defenses inside. Phoenix, at this point, is going to rely on Miles Plumlee to take a step forward and act as a low-post option at points, and Tolliver is probably going to be playing power forward almost all of the time.
But Tolliver isn’t a pure power forward like Frye. Last season, his defensive versatility sometimes put him on players such as LeBron James, and he won’t be able to handle as many players in the post.
With Markieff Morris still looking like a favorite to slide into a starting role and with his efficiency sparked last year by Phoenix keeping him almost exclusively in the post, maybe the more interesting discussion here is about how Tolliver splits the minutes with Marcus Morris.
Marcus Morris shot-chart, 2013-14
Marcus shot 38 percent from three-point range last season but hardly was used in pick-and-roll plays as the roll man. He was instead used comfortably enough on the block, where he shot 44 percent (see the heavy action to the left of the lane in the shot-chart above). Morris even sometimes was used as a pick-and-roll ball handler and shot 50 percent out of those situations, according to Synergy Sports.
So yes, Tolliver — not the Morris twins — is the closest thing to Channing Frye. He’s smaller at 6-foot-8 and 244 pounds and will have an even tougher time than Frye defending bigger power forwards. Tolliver’s rebounding rate of 7.3 percent is worse than Frye’s 10.1 percent from a year ago, though that might be due to his time at small forward, as he has a 10.3 percent rate over his career.
Tolliver will be the best option of Phoenix’s forwards in pick-and-pop action, but he could be limited if teams start sticking to him like glue.
Phoenix, without any significant frontcourt moves, will have to rely heavily upon the development of Markieff Morris to shoulder the defensive and rebounding duties. And on offense, the Suns guards will be challenged by having more time each game against opposing teams with less vulnerable defensive rotations. Tolliver helps alleviate the loss of Frye, but there will be challenges ahead. This is already a very different frontcourt from a year ago.