I recently wrote a column over at ButTheGameIsOn about the top wing defenders in the NBA and how they deserve a lot more credit than they get for going up against the athletic marvels that the NBA currently boasts at the guard and forward positions. I listed Tony Allen as the second best wing defender in the NBA based on his play this season (along with Andre Iguodala, Ron Artest and LeBron James). Here's my full take on the Grizzlies' off-season acquisition.
It may have taken an in-flight fight with a teammate to get Tony Allen some national attention this season, but all press is good press. And it’s about time Allen gets mentioned. After being the other Allen on the Celtics last season, Tony has emerged as a fantastic player for the Grizzlies this year and is one of the best off-season additions that any team made this summer. It shouldn't come as a surprise, especially based on the way he played in the NBA Finals, slowing down Kobe Bryant as best as he or anyone else could, but it seems to have caught most folks off guard that Tony Allen is making a difference in the Western Conference playoff picture.
Allen is a hard-nosed defender and combines pure grit with perfect movements. He’s an extremely aggressive defender, but not an overaggressive one and walking that fine line expertly has made Allen one of the best individual defenders in the entire league.
Allen started off the season as a back-up to O.J. Mayo but after some disappointing play from Mayo, he was moved to the bench to be the key scorer on the second unit, opening up a spot for Allen. But instead of getting promoted, Allen was kept on the bench in favor of Sam Young. Allen has recently gotten his chance to start with Rudy Gay’s injury keeping him in dress clothes and his play during this stretch has been outstanding.
Not only has Allen been scoring effectively – a completely unexpected contribution – but his defense has been stellar of late. In what might have been the Grizzlies best win of the season against the Oklahoma City Thunder in early February, Allen, starting for Rudy Gay, poured in 27 points while holding Kevin Durant to four-of-13 shooting when Allen was guarding him in an overtime win for Memphis.
That kind of perimeter defense is why Memphis acquired him and he’s delivered that lockdown D so far this season. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Allen has only allowed .79 points per possession this season on defense while holding his man to 35% shooting from the floor. Though he has not played as many possessions as Iguodala, his numbers are very similar and his performance for the Grizzlies.
Allen is a seemingly tireless defender that will fight tooth and nail to play his man as tight as possible and his work on defense has helped the Grizzlies transform into one of the top 10 defensive teams in the league in terms of defensive efficiency. A year after ranking as the seventh worst defense in the league by giving up 107.6 points per 100 possessions, Memphis is now allowing just 102.6 points per 100 possessions, the 10th best mark in the NBA. And, according to BasketballValue.com, the Grizzlies are a much better defensive team with Allen on the floor than with him on the bench. With Allen on the pine, Memphis allows 106.8 points per 100 possessions, which would rank them 22nd in the league this season (tied with the Clippers). With Allen in the game, they allow a stingy 102.6 points per 100 possessions, which again is a top 10 mark.
Allen’s ability to check anybody on the wing despite being just six-foot-four is amazing. His quick hands and feet make him a hassle for anybody to deal with on the wing. It’s not just that he’s a tough defender to get by and contests every shot (which Shane Battier does expertly, only in a very calculated way rather than by mettle), but Allen makes every dribble, every pivot and every swing through tough. He’s got that underdog mentality to him every play he’s asked to guard the likes of LeBron or Durant and more often than not, he gets the best of his man.
Allen hasn’t gotten enough minutes this season to justify a real shot at the DPotY award, but if you’re making a list of the top wing defenders in the NBA, which I am, there is no way you can leave Allen off of it. He works so, so hard on that end and he’s tremendous at his job. The world may only know him for hitting O.J. Mayo on a plane, but Allen’s real claim to fame is his terrific defense.
What do you have to say, Grizzlies' fans? Do you agree with my assessment of Allen?