It’s past time to close the door through which Juan Toscano-Anderson entered the NBA. The door held open last December by the Warriors while dangling a hand-written sign: “Temporary.”
It was smart to invite JTA into the league. But he has done enough to show he is here to stay, even if his contract says otherwise.
Two-way? No way.
That’s the official tag, still, but by now nearly everybody on the payroll knows it wildly understates JTA’s value. To be blunt, seeing him play at such a high level under a two-way contract is kind of a sensitive internal issue.
“He’s not a two-way guy to me,” coach Steve Kerr said Thursday night, after Toscano-Anderson was a catalyst in a 119-101 win at Cleveland that gave the Warriors their first four-game win streak this season.
“Yeah, you could do a deep dive on how that happened,” Stephen Curry said.
“But he’s not playing anywhere like that,” Curry added. “His mentality has always been that he belongs in this league. Opportunity is there and he’s taking full advantage of it. You love to see that, considering where he’s been in his career, even the last two years here.
“You hope that (two-way) tag doesn’t last too much longer. But while it does, he’s obviously playing way above that label.”
The “deep dive” need not be that deep. JTA signed the two-way deal right before the season because it was what the Warriors could offer. That indicates he basically splits his season between the NBA and the G League. He took it because it’s what he had in hand, it was with his hometown team – he is Oakland through and through – and, deep in his heart, he saw it as the audition that could turn into an official league contract.
It has not. Not yet. The Warriors have a couple other guys under official NBA contracts, two of them being long-term project Alen Smailagic and part-time shooter Mychal Mulder. Neither of their contracts is guaranteed beyond this season, but their current $1.5 million annual salaries, per Spotrac, dwarfs JTA’s $450,000 two-way deal.
More to the point, JTA is outplaying both. And has all season.
Though considered a defense-first player, Toscano-Anderson is 58.2 percent from the field, including 43.9 percent from deep.
“The work, the work, the work,” said Damion Lee, JTA’s closest teammate, dating back to their time in G-League Santa Cruz. “That man’s been putting in hours and hours and hours with his shot.”
His off-the-bench performance Thursday included a career-high 20 points, on 8-of-9 shooting, seven rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block. He was plus-21 over 31 minutes partly due to those numbers but also his defense, particularly as the Warriors took command in the second quarter.
“He’s one of the players on the team who I really trust,” Kerr said. “He just understands the game at a deep level. He may be a rookie or a second-year (player), but he’s 28. He’s been all over the world. He understands the game and he’s a competitor.
“He was all over the ball in that second quarter, defensively, which changed the tone of the game.”
Meanwhile, JTA’s fan club – basically the entire coaching staff – was in full cheer inside Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, with veteran assistant Ron Adams quietly leading the way. JTA and Adams shared a moment just off the court shortly after the game.
“He’s meant a lot,” Toscano-Anderson said. “I’m super appreciative of that man. He didn’t necessarily have to do what he did for me. He did it out of kindness. Obviously, he’s a coach and it’s his job. But the extra work and the extra attention he put into me . . . I wasn’t a guy who was under contract. I wasn’t an investment, per se, a draft pick for the team.
“So, for him to go out of his way and put a lot of extra work into me, I thank him all the time. And I’ll be grateful for the rest of my life.”
JTA pointed out several others that have been aided his development, including Aaron Miles, Khalid Robinson and Santa Cruz Warriors coach Kris Weems.
These are among the people who opened the door for JTA. They and many others have come to realize what he means to the Warriors. And it’s a lot more than implied by a two-way deal.