There is a common opinion within basketball circles that the Memphis Grizzlies have needed wing help - or more specifically, floor spacing and shooting from the wing - ever since the 'grit and grind' era began. The Grizzlies traded away Rudy Gay on January 30, 2013, netting a pair of wings in Austin Daye and Tayshaun Prince (along with Ed Davis) in the hope of generating more floor spacing for Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph while maintaining their defensive prowess.
During the 2013 playoffs, Memphis managed to breeze into the Western Conference Finals after defeating a pair of injury-riddled teams in the Los Angles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Awaiting the Grizzlies in the Conference Finals was a familiar foe - the San Antonio Spurs.
It had been just two postseasons prior that the Spurs - the 2011 No. 1 seed - were upset by the up-and-coming Grizzlies in what will go down as one of the all-time great playoff upsets. But Spurs head coach Greg Popovich had learned, from not only the 2011 series defeat, but also the multiple regular season games between the two divisional foes, how to defend the Grizzlies. Pop discovered that simply packing the interior and forcing the Grizzlies to beat them from the outside as opposed to through their two marquee big-men was the key.
More Game Coverage
Quick Recap: Grizzlies fight off Mavericks 114-105
The Grizzlies came out on top against one of the highest-scoring offenses in the NBA in a shootout in which both teams shot over 45 percent from three.
More Game Coverage
With the starting wing combo of Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince - two presumed non-threats to score from beyond 12-feet - the Spurs' model of forcing Memphis' wings to beat them from the outside worked.
And even though the Grizzlies were a top five defensive team with Allen and Prince on the wings, one questioned if Memphis would ever have the necessary offensive scoring threats to be a true title contender.
Since being swept by San Antonio in the 2013 Conference Finals, the Grizzlies have made a concerted effort to acquire more floor spacers in hopes of countering the Spurs' defensive blueprint. Courtney Lee, Beno Udrih, Jerryd Bayless, Mike Miller, and Vince Carter have all been brought in to aid in the floor spacing movement.
This season - for the first time since the team acquired Prince, and much to the approval of Grizzlies fans - Coach Dave Joerger and the Grizzlies have decided to break up the wing combination of Allen and Prince in the starting five in favor of a more balanced attack of Allen and Lee.
For Prince, coming off of the bench is not something he is used to. In fact, Prince has started in 94.96% of the NBA games he has appeared in. Taking it one step further, Prince has gotten nine Did Not Play - Coach's Decisions this season.
But the 11-year vet out of Kentucky has been more than willing to accept a lesser role for the betterment of the team, and, over the last few games, seems to be flourishing in his new, somewhat reduced role.
"He (Tayshaun Prince) helps us win," Joerger said after Tuesday's 114-105 win over the Dallas Mavericks. "I play him as much as I can and keep the big picture in mind at all times with him."
Joerger stressed all off-season the importance of closely monitoring minutes played, especially for the starters and the veterans - a practice San Antonio has become both respected and infamous for. The reduced minutes and nights off for Prince are all a part of the big picture that Joerger was referring to. The team wants guys like Prince to be healthy and rested come playoff time, and not being healthy was what held Prince back from being able to contribute up to his full potential last season.
When asked about what the difference from last year to this season in terms of production has been, Prince simply said, "I'm healthy. That's it."
"(Last season I had to deal with) a little bit of everything from leg injuries to having a big time stomach virus when I came into training camp that lasted, shoot, a month. The doctors really couldn't find out what it was at the beginning, and it just kind of trickled into the whole season," Prince went on to say.
Last season, Prince shot 29% from three, 40.7% from the floor overall, and 56.7% from the free throw line - all career-lows - while managing to average just 6 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game, which are all his worst averages since his rookie season (he averged 10.6 minutes-per-game his rookie season and 25.6 minutes-per-game last season).
With a full training camp under his belt and a clean bill of health, Prince has managed to bring his shooting percentages up to 52.4 from three, 44.2 from the field, and 80.0 from the foul line.
"He's a true professional," said Allen about his former starting wing-mate. "He's kind of turning back the clock a little bit. He's always ready when his number is called...We're going to need him to continue to be ready throughout the year because he's a big piece to all of this."
In post-game interviews, both Allen and Lee cited the fact that Prince had been staying in the gym late throughout this season to get extra shots up as a possible reason for the 34-year-old's production spike this season.
"I was getting some DNPs, so when you get DNPs you can do a lot more (extra work) because you've got a lot more energy to put into it...I wasn't playing for a while so I was able to do a lot of things," Prince said, talking about putting in the extra work this season.
He also talked about doing a great deal of extra work with Nick Calathes - who was serving the remaining 13 games of his 20-game suspension - since Prince was not playing much himself.
The extra time off due to not being an everyday starter, or even an everyday rotation player for that matter, has really contributed to Prince's resurgence this season. As the season continues to trudge onward, expect more stretches like the current hot-streak Prince has put together - averaging 13.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game while connecting on 7 of 10 threes over the last three games. But one should also assume that Prince will have his fair share of DNPs as a part of ensuring the Grizzlies go into the playoffs at peak strength.
(Editor's note: h/t to C.Grrrrrbrrr for the "Tayshaunaissance" title -CF)