To find the guy who spilled the most blood during the Warriors’ destruction of the Mavericks on Thursday night in Dallas, you have to clear the thick smoke from fires started by Kelly Oubre Jr., Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.
Oubre had a career night, scoring 40 points. Curry had a typically splendid night, with 28 points in an efficient 30 minutes. Green, well, he picked up 15 assists, with only one turnover.
Once past those gaudy numbers, you’ll find the other guy. He played more minutes than anybody, produced numbers that danced across the stat sheet and, still, he’s clinging to a thread in hopes of staying in the NBA.
After giving the Warriors what they needed when they needed it most, Juan Toscano-Anderson was somewhere behind the stars and their multimillion-dollar contracts, squeezing the cheese from a bargain salary that, frankly, is beneath him.
“Juan is just a fantastic competitor, one of our smartest players in terms of just having a feel for the game at both ends,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I love Juan. In my book he's not a two-way player. He's a big part of our team, and he showed why tonight.”
This was Kerr speaking Tuesday night, before Toscano-Anderson was pressed into the starting lineup Thursday. Before he responded with a performance beyond the fantasies of most players relegated to a two-way contract, which essentially dictates splitting time between the G League and NBA.
Toscano-Anderson’s $450,000 salary is healthy by general standards but basically minimum wage in the NBA.
The 6-foot-6, 215-pound natural forward defended Mavericks all over the floor while also contributing 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, grabbing a team-high-tying eight rebounds, five assists and two blocks. Two more game-highs: 40 minutes and plus-26.
“Juan was Fantastic,” Kerr said Thursday. “I’ve known what Juan could do since last year. I'm a huge fan. I just love his innate feel for the game, his toughness, his competitiveness, his energy, his joy. The guys on the team love Juan. The respect that he has, there aren’t a lot of two-way players in the league who have the kind of respect that Juan has in our locker room.”
Toscano-Anderson was in the starting lineup because the Warriors are without centers, having lost, in order, Marquese Chriss, James Wiseman and Kevon Looney. JTA is considerably smaller than those three, but what he lacks in physical stature is offset with smarts and spunk.
‘Some people say I’m a position-less player. Some people call me versatile. Some people call me a big guard. Whatever the case may be,” Toscano-Anderson said. “(Thursday), I really showed that I could play multiple positions. I guarded 1 through 5, played the 5 some. It's working for me. Bigs can't really guard me outside of the paint.
“We can't really do anything about what's happened to our bigs, so we just got to go with the flow and go with what we got.”
What they have in Toscano-Anderson is someone who was a star at Castro Valley High School but Oakland-raised, and therefore allergic to the concept of surrender. He played multiple positions over four years at Marquette, where he entered the starting lineup as a sophomore. Undrafted by the NBA, he spent four years playing pro ball in the Mexican League and dipped as far south as Argentina before circling back to California and the G League Santa Cruz Warriors.
By the time Anderson made his NBA debut, last Feb. 8, he was a month away from his 27th birthday.
When the Warriors reluctantly placed him on waivers three days before the season opener in Brooklyn, they hoped he’d make it back to them. Two days later, on Dec. 21, Toscano-Anderson signed the two-way contract not because he hadn’t earned more, but because it was all that was available.
“When the opportunity presents itself, you have to be ready,” he said Thursday night. “I think a lot of guys, even myself – I’ll speak from my own perspective – I was internalizing a lot of things. It sucks to play and then to sit. And it doesn't suck in a way that I’m mad at anybody else. It just sucks because I want to be out there with the guys, and I want to compete.
“I put the work in every day. I just believe in hard work and opportunity. That is was luck is.”
The Warriors sent three players, all selected in the last two drafts, to the G-League bubble. They need them there to discover what Jordan Poole can give them later this season or beyond. They need Alen Smailagić there because he’s a long-term project in search of an NBA-level skill. They need Nico Mannion there because he’s a teenager with one year of college ball and is not ready for the league.
All three have more NBA security than Toscano-Anderson, who deserves better.
“I'm never mad at anybody else for their success or for their opportunities,” he said. “I know my time will come; it always does. I believe that God grants good things to good people. So, I just try to do the right thing every day and I try to make myself proud.”
He’s making a lot of people proud, because he provides his team with what it needs. It’s easy to see how much this means to him. And he’s right. His time will come.