'21 Season Review: Juan Toscano-Anderson's inspirational season
Oakland's very own stepped up as a key player for the Dubs during a tumultuous year.
The following is a conversation on Juan Toscano-Anderson's season between Daniel Hardee and Thomas “Dr. Tom” Bevilacqua, the author of “Golden Age: The Brilliance of the 2018 Champion Golden State Warriors”.
Dr. Tom: Juan’s another player I’m claiming as a personal victory for me because I remember watching him in 2019 Summer League and thinking he could be an NBA player. Maybe it was the heat or my being sleep deprived because I’d just lost my life savings at the blackjack table the previous night, but I saw flashes in his Summer League play and I feel a bit vindicated seeing him earn this roster spot with the Dubs.
Daniel: You definitely shouted him out early on. I remember you talking about his high motor; he always seemed to be on top of every careening rebound or loose ball. Of course,after several Henny shots in that oppressive Vegas summer heat, a lotta pundits at Summer League were picking random guys as “keepers”. But your JTA praise was rather prescient in its accuracy.
One thing that I did not foresee during that time was how high his hoop IQ is. We’ve seen plenty of high-motor players who didn’t have the play recognition to keep them in rotations, but JTA is of the rare breed that can fuse nonstop hustle with being a coach on the floor.
Dr. Tom: One of the telling stats for JTA, of which there are really few, are the on/off numbers. Per Cleaning the Glass, his on/off differential in 2020-21 was +3.2, placing him in the 69th percentile.
In other words, the Warriors scored 3.2 more points than they allowed when he was on the court. I think those of us who drank the Kool-Aid and are leading the “JTA can be like Iguodala” charge would be interested to know that Iguodala’s on/off differential numbers for much of the dynasty run was in that same +3 range.
Daniel: It’s funny you mention Iguodala as a reference because anytime you’re comparing a role player to an Olympic Gold Medalist/Finals MVP/basketball genius/freak athlete there’s a LOT to unpack there. Especially considering Iguodala technically could rejoin the Warriors in the offseason as he’s potentially finished serving his time away on South Beach:
“I hear a lot of fans say they want Andre back, which is great,” Toscano-Anderson told NBC Sports Bay Area this week. “He’s a great player. But I’m Juan. I want to be myself. I admire him and respect him and I know what he brought to this team. I hope I can somewhat try to fill in those shoes.”
Dr. Tom: I think Juan would be ideal for this team going forward (rather than, and I know a segment of the Warriors fan population won’t like this, going back to the well with Iguodala) because he gives them just enough of what Andre brought to make up for his absence as the other aspects of this roster are augmented.
If you have Wiseman continuing on the trajectory we’ve seen, and while Wiggins isn’t at Kevin Durant’s level he’s better than Harrison Barnes, you don’t need to get 100% of the Iguodala element from one player. But if Juan’s giving you the bulk of it and then these other players are chipping in too? That’s ideal.
Daniel: Especially for the price; the salary cap strapped Dubs were desperately hunting for a diamond in the rough at his price point. Last year the Warriors had the highest payroll in NBA history. JTA’s team friendly contract is extremely valuable to Golden State.
Dr. Tom: You know I’m a fan of making comparisons between players but one I’m interested in is JTA and Jae Crowder. Big wings from Marquette. But as Crowder went to the NBA Finals last season and is dragging Chris Paul’s broken body I mean playing in the Western Conference Finals right now, that shows that this kind of player can be a rotation player on a team with title aspirations. Yeah, maybe it’s the store-brand version, the Dr. Skipper and not the Dr. Pepper, but that might be all the Warriors need.
Daniel: LOL how dare you bring up that dastardly imitation Dr. Skipper! But yeah, we don’t need JTA to be exactly Iguodala, we need him to help fill in the gaps around the war machines that Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are.
Dr. Tom: Top five on the team in Win Shares and Value Over Replacement Player and the second-best eFG% (which Spreadsheet Fans tell me are important), a good assist-to-turnover ratio, he’s giving you the perfect amount of that thing you’re talking about. It’s how you could tell who was really watching the games because they’re the ones who appreciated Juan’s game and what he was bringing. But, with a little digging and context, there are those statistical bits of evidence.
Daniel: Absolutely. I mean he shot 40% from beyond the arc, and was 35-of-80 (43.8%) on catch-and-shoot three-pointers. In fact as he grew in confidence, I started hoping he’d take even more of ‘em!
Part of the reason he was so good for this team was his innate understanding of where the best shots would come from and how to help generate those. Whether by pass, shot, cut, or screen, JTA usually seemed to know what to do next.
His shot chart is straight out of an analytics nerd’s dreams, with his attempts clustered either around the rim or beyond the arc.
As the season progressed and the injured Golden State squad grew more desperate in their fight for the postseason, JTA showed why he’s a true keeper. Over the last 10 games of the season he averaged 7.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 4.7 assists on 57% shooting (37.9% from 3PT range) in 30.4 MPG.
Dr. Tom: Some of JTA’s best games came during that stretch--the win over the Suns, a late-season demolishing of the Nuggets (and MVP Jokic). Even that meaningless win over the New Orleans Pelicans, JTA was doing exactly what we wanted from him.
Daniel: I was really impressed by his tenacious rebounding. His work on the boards were crucial to the Warriors surviving with only the groundbound 6-foot-9 Kevon Looney as a “tall” guy in the paint. Over that 10-game closing stretch, JTA was third on the team in rebounding behind Draymond Green and Looney. At 6-foot-6, 209 pounds JTA isn’t the biggest dude on the court, but he exhibits a wiry strength when he mixes it up with bigger players.
Per Synergy, JTA ranked highly in offensive efficiency. We’ve already touched on the spot up shooting, but we really gotta focus on his fantastic understanding of cutting. He has an innate sixth sense for those moments when the defense’s attention is elsewhere, allowing him to dive in for those backdoor cuts the Warriors’ offense feeds on.
Dr. Tom: When I think about what I saw when I watched JTA on the court and then looking at those different statistical measures, I see a player with 1.) high basketball IQ and 2.) high motor, both of which very much echo the Iguodala skill set. Even the being a good rebounder while being undersized, you have to be smart to do that.
Daniel: Is IQ the same as feel? Because JTA has a next level feel for the game. Iguodala had it, Shaun Livingston had it, Steph and Draymond have it in spades. That’s where the crazy passing at the heart of the GSW dynastic plan comes in; JTA helps unlock the ball movement of Coach Kerr’s fever dreams.
Dr. Tom: Toughness is a big part of JTA’s game (not surprising, a guy from Oakland who went to Castro Valley High would have some gruff to him) but that’s not all he is. There is that feel, that IQ, that he’s displayed throughout. Where he really brings those things together is on the defensive end.
Daniel: He’s got some of that We Believe/Matt Barnes intensity, where he’s eager to go to war with anybody on the court. He fit right in Golden State’s smallball lineup when their bigman depth was demolished, and toggled between harassing wing scorers to boxing out centers with a boisterous verve.
When he wins those possessional battles, it’s like a jolt of positive reinforcement and confidence radiates through the team. He plays inspirational defense.
Dr. Tom: Again, taking a stat from Cleaning the Glass, his steal rate (how often the player got a steal when he was on defense) was 1.6% last season, which was in the 80th percentile.
Dr. Tom: High motor, smarts, quickness, that’s going to lead to some steals. Another Cleaning the Glass stat I really liked--on 38.5% of the fouls that JTA drew, he made the shot/got himself an and-1 opportunity. He was in the 91st percentile for that. When I see that, I think about someone who’s driving, who’s finishing through contact/in difficult situations, which speaks to his tenacity and grit.
Daniel: And that’s exactly what is needed from him on this team. His competitive ferocity amplifies his teammates passion and sets the emotional tone that they will not be outworked as long as he’s on the floor.
Who can forget when he damn near killed himself securing an offensive rebound that led to a clutch Curry bomb on the road in Boston?
Or when he jawed at elite scorer Devin Booker when the Suns led by double-digits, spurring a monster Golden State comeback? Normally those spark moments are Draymond’s job; it was heartwarmingly surreal to watch a son of Oakland step up and get hyphy on an opposing All-Star.
How do you feel about his role/minutes going forward with what we know so far about the team next year (more James Wiseman, the return of Klay Thompson)?
Dr. Tom: In terms of his playing time, last season he averaged around 20 minutes per game but by the end of the season (given all the injuries), he was around 30 minutes per game. I think about 20-to-maybe-25 minutes should be the target for him with a healthy Warriors roster.
While we used the Iguodala comparison to highlight what JTA does well, we don’t need him to be/replace Andre. I don’t know if this will make sense but what we should want is JTA to do his JTA thing but in a Shaun Livingston-esque playing time amount.
Daniel: Yeah those short bursts of Liv were pretty crucial to the dynasty. He’s not a scoring machine or a highlight reel athletic freak, but he’s a fundamentally sound basketball artist who weaponizes joy and uplifts his teammates.
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I like JTA in any lineup obviously, but to me he’s a key for helping guys like Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall be their best selves off the bench. His ability to hold his own defensively while spacing the floor and keeping the ball moving is exactly what you want around those two guys in the second unit. They also will be going into their 3rd season playing together, I’d love to see how they impact the reserves.
Dr. Tom: That bench unit really came together in the second part of the season and JTA was a big part of that. They had so much energy that could carry them through those non-Steph minutes. That’s something you don’t want to lose in 2021-22.