Tayshaun Prince is awful.
We've all thought it, many of us have said it, this writer included. His PER, his painful to watch shooting stroke, his lack of production in a variety of stats. All damning evidence. Arguing for the positives of a player who is averaging career lows across the board is a challenge. Especially as a blogger who has, both on this site and on his Twitter handle, continuously hoped that Prince would be moved and his minutes eliminated.
However, it has become painfully obvious he will continue to start for the Memphis Grizzlies. It has become crystal clear that Tayshaun will likely see more of the 24-26 minutes he averages over the course of the season than the 16 that was recommended here. The veteran from Compton will very likely, like it or not, be a key cog of the Grizzlies sprint for the playoffs.
So, what are we to do? Wallow in self-pity? Continue to shout to the Twitter heavens that Tayshaun Prince is a terrible, horrible, no good very bad basketball player all while stressfully watching the scoreboard every night to see how Portland, Golden State, Phoenix and Dallas are doing? Many among Grizz Nation will, no doubt. Moving forward, though, a more constructive exercise that we all would be better served to adhere to, for our own collective sanity, is to try to find the good. Where are the redeeming qualities that Tayshaun has that will help the Grizzlies get to their immediate goal of the playoffs?
If you squint, strain and stare, you'll find some glimmers of hope. You just need to know where to look.
The Gross Tayshaun Product, Barometer for Success
Tayshaun Prince's season averages are abysmal. There is no sugar coating that. Here are the overall numbers.
For someone averaging 26 minutes a game on the wing, that's rough. However, there is one positive to the blood bath shown above. This is the breakdown of Tayshaun's numbers in wins and in losses.
Growth in a variety of categories. Better from the field, the free throw line, rebounding and scoring. The biggest number that sticks out, however, is the imperfect statistic of +/-. The number has its issues as well of its strengths, as outlined in this ESPN piece from 2012. However, when utilized properly it can show a glimpse into what a player brings outside of the typical points and rebounds.
Naturally, when the starters do well, they all have positive +/- numbers. When it comes to usage, naturally the numbers of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley will be higher because of the role they have on the team. The difference between positive in wins and negative in losses is larger with Tayshaun, however, at 12.2, than it is with Courtney Lee, who is at 8.5.
Using this stat, Tayshaun's collective performance, or Gross Tayshaun Product, has a bigger impact than our eyes can tell us at times. Tay is also closer to Zach (14.8), Mike (13.4) and Marc (13.0) than one may realize in regards to the difference between positive +/- in wins and negative +/- in losses. Tayshaun's average +/- in wins, at +5.5, is higher than Marc's, at +3.6 and Courtney Lee's at +4.6. Tayshaun, despite his lack of production on certain evenings, has an overall impact that goes beyond the box score at times.
This is not to say that this one statistic makes all well for the man with the Go-Go Gadget arms. Tayshaun's issues go beyond the numbers. When it comes down to it though, the Gross Tayshaun Product, or his overall contributions to the Grizzlies, is vital in Memphis' wins so far this season. Not overwhelming, but important nonetheless.
Heating Up By Doing Less After the Break
Tayshaun's seen some better days since after the All-Star Break. His shot has been the biggest improvement. Compare the pre (shooting 39.2%) and post (shooting 46.3%) All-Star shot charts
Smaller sample size, of course. There is, however, a positive trend that bears watching; he is shooting less overall after the break and more efficiently. His average shots taken are down almost an entire shot, 5.9 post All-Star compared to 6.8 before. While his made shots per game are the same (2.7), his percentages are better. Another silver lining; 29.8% of his shots before the break were inside the lane, where he is by far most effective overall. Since the All-Star Game? 48.7%.
It is as if Tayshaun understands more and more his limitations and is adapting, slowly but surely, so that he can better help the team. More inside shots and less overall shooting enables other more effective offensive players another opportunity to score per game while making his own attempts much more efficient.
Sets for Success- The Post and the Corner 3
The two areas where Tayshaun has the most positive effect offensively are the interior of the lane ( 74-117, or 63.2%) and from the corner 3 (17-46, or 36.9%.) Memphis has shown attempts in recent games to try to get Tay's looks, however limited, in these areas. This series of screen shots shows Tayshaun working in the post.
Horns set play to start. Tayshaun will use Zach Randolph's presence more than a screen to run around Zach in to the post.
Zach is now in a position that he has been in more lately, whether it is in a high-low set to Marc Gasol or Kosta Koufos or in this case with Prince; he is delivering the entry pass. Tayshaun, a 6'9" small forward with a remarkable 7'6" wing span is being defended by Wesley Matthews, a 6'5" shooting guard with a 6'8" wing span. Tayshaun has 4 inches of height and 10 inches of length over Matthews. This is the definition of a mismatch in the post.
Zach clears through the lane and positions himself for a possible offensive rebound, likely a wise move with the player lovingly known as "clanks" now in an isolation situation. Tayshaun is actually quite effective in this area of the court, however, as he backs down Matthews and uses his long limbs to create space between himself Matthews and the ball, and eventually himself and Matthews.
Tayshaun executes a pretty basic drop step and pump fake in the post, but the strength of this set is not in the move, but in the mismatch. Matthews, overcompensating due to his lack of size, honors the pump fake and is drawn up and into Tayshaun, who has an easy chance at an and 1 play on the made layup.
As a wing scorer on a team with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, Tayshaun will have to leave the post and shoot from range. While his mid-range game leaves a lot to be desired (6/23, or 26% since the All-Star Break) a simple step or two back can make an awful shot a little bit better, especially from the corner. Take this set against the Thunder, for example.
A basic pick and roll at the top of the key with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley to start. However, Conley notices Russell Westbrook out of position and decides to drive before Gasol is fully set. This also puts Serge Ibaka in a tough spot to retreat and give proper help.
Mike's quickness allows him to blow by Westbrook and Ibaka and get into the top of the paint. Steven Adams collapses to his left, and to his right Kevin Durant. Look how far off Durant is playing Prince, almost 20 feet! Complete lack of respect for Prince's shot.
Of course, if there is a player with the athleticism and wingspan to retreat back on to Prince, it is Durant. However, even Durant's 7'5" wing span can catch up to Prince, who has plenty of space at the top of his jumper to connect on the corner 3.
Opposing teams will continue to put weaker defenders on Tayshaun or help off of him, regardless of size or skill, because of his offensive struggles. It is up to Coach Joerger to find ways to get Prince's shots in the most efficient way possible and it is up to Tayshaun to make teams pay for the lack of respect whenever possible.
Two L's You Cannot Teach
Tayshaun Prince has a couple of unique skills that no coach can fully instill in a player. One of which is Tayshaun's previously mentioned remarkable wingspan. One of the great measuring sticks of defensive impact and versatility is wingspan; Scottie Pippen, widely considered one of the best wing defenders of all-time, had a wingspan of 7'3", about the same as Tayshaun Prince.
This length enables Tayshaun to make up for a lost step or two on the defensive end. It forces opposing players to deal with length and get around Prince's lanky limbs, not an easy feat on the dribble drive or the pull-up jumper. His length also offers versatility defensively; in the past month Tayshaun Prince has defended the likes of Kevin Durant, Thaddeus Young, Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis, Al Jefferson, Kent Bazemore and Chris Paul. Between all of those players, all 5 basketball positions are represented. Length is extremely valuable to any coach, and Coach Joerger likely sees that in Tayshaun in spades.
The other L is leadership. No doubt you have heard the long list of accolades by now; Medalist for the USA Men's Basketball team in a variety of competitions including the 2008 Gold Medal in the Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. NBA Champion with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. This experience of success legitimizes Prince in the eyes of his coaches, other front office personnel and most importantly, his teammates.
The Memphis Grizzlies players, repeatedly, have supported and stated their respect and admiration for Tayshaun. They see him as a true professional, someone who comes to work and does his job with the respect it deserves every day. When Tayshaun was so ill he lost 12-15 pounds earlier in the season, or when he has dealt with injury, he barely says a word about it; he went about his business, trying to get better enough so that he could help the team win.
He has worked with younger players, teaching them the ways of the NBA veteran and helping them in any way he can. The championship pedigree and professionalism resonates with this Grizzlies roster, and his presence serves as a steadying force at times for players not just on the court, but off it. As a professional athlete, you aren't just given respect from your peers, you must earn it. Tayshaun Prince, amongst this Grizzly group, has done that and then some. That has value.
Does any of this change the fact that his skills have diminished? That he is not the young man who executed "The Block" in the NBA Playoffs so long ago, or that he has not scored over 1,000 points in a season since 2010-2011? No, it doesn't. Tayshaun has his limitations, and there are players on the Grizllies bench who, in their own unique ways, can help Memphis win, at times better than Tayshaun Prince.
Prince's struggles have no doubt frustrated many a Grizzlies fan, and Coach Joerger's insistence on playing him in front of other able athletes is even more maddening at times. Perhaps Coach Joerger sees something many of us cannot see conistently, with a basic glimpse into the impact of Tayshaun Prince as a Grizzly. The larger puzzle, the continuity with a veteran roster, the length to defend multiple positions and the leadership qualities to help to steer the ship when the tide gets rough.
Tayshaun Prince, at first glance, is awful. Even with the use of statistical analysis, a positive outlook and a search for the light in the darkness, you can see there are holes in his game. His spot is secured on this Grizzlies roster though, at least for this playoff run, and he has the respect of teammates and coaches alike. Maybe that should be enough for us as well.
At least, if we are trying to look on the bright side.