Is Anthony Tolliver the key to the Pistons’ defense?

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 29: Anthony Tolliver
OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 29: Anthony Tolliver /

Eight games into the Detroit Pistons’ season, a trend seems to be emerging on the defensive end. Could Anthony Tolliver be the key to the Pistons’ defense?

The Detroit Pistons closed out an otherwise impressive West Coast road trip with a disappointing 113-93 loss against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night. While Detroit was in position for a letdown after back-to-back marquee wins over the Clippers and the Warriors, the team’s defense suffered greatly in the loss to L.A.

Part of that could have to do with the fact that backup power forward Anthony Tolliver saw just 10 minutes in that game. He finished with a plus-minus of -1, which turned out to be the highest plus-minus score of any Pistons’ player that saw at least five minutes of action.

More from PistonPowered

On the heels of their third straight road game, Stan Van Gundy’s squad allowed 1.154 points per possession against a struggling Lakers offense, which is a far cry from their season average (1.031). Even with that performance, the Detroit Pistons have the personnel to be one of the better defensive teams in the NBA this season.

Detroit has two very good perimeter defenders in Avery Bradley and Stanley Johnson, to go along with arguably one of the NBA’s best defensive glass cleaners in Andre Drummond.

So, how could a career journeyman like Tolliver be the key to the Pistons’ defense?

The sample size is admittedly small, but Anthony Tolliver currently ranks 36th in the NBA in defensive win shares (0.054) – right behind Patrick Beverley and Paul George (0.055). And that’s not a mistake.

When Tolliver has been off of the floor this season, Detroit’s opponents are scoring at a rate of 1.14 points per possession – a mark that would rank dead last in the NBA. With Tolliver in the game, however, that number drops down considerably – all the way down to 0.938 points per possession, which would rank first in the NBA.

It doesn’t stop there.

Without the veteran power forward on the floor, Detroit Pistons’ opponents shoot 47.6 percent from the field, 53.7 percent from two-point range and shoot their two-pointers from an average distance of 8 feet. When Tolliver is in the game, opponents shoot just 40.0 percent from the field, 41.4 percent on two-point attempts, and take those two-point attempts from one foot further away from the basket (9.05 feet) on average.

Tolliver is a rangy 3-and-D player that is a perfect fit in Stan Van Gundy’s system. He’s not afraid to do the dirty work down low and has the ability to space the floor on the offensive end. The offense doesn’t suffer when he’s in the game either. Detroit is averaging 1.117 points per possession without him on the floor and 1.114 when he’s out there.

Consider this. In Detroit’s two wins over the Clippers and Warriors, Tolliver finished a whopping +30 in a total of 43 minutes. While he’s probably going to concede minutes to Henry Ellenson and John Leuer based on matchups, one thing is for sure. The Pistons are performing a lot better when he’s on the floor, especially on the defensive end.

Let’s not forget, Tolliver was also tasked with slowing down Kristaps Porzingis earlier this season and did well against him. He held Porzingis to just 1-for-5 shooting when he was Porzingis’ primary defender, helping turn the tide in what eventually was a 111-107 Pistons’ win.

I’m no basketball genius, but as a Detroit Pistons’ fan, I’m hoping to see Tolliver have a more consistent role in the frontcourt as the season moves along.

Next: Should Pistons Look At Hezonja?

Take that for data.