For a long time, one of the faces of the Grizzlies' grit-and-grind identity, Tony Allen's 2013-14 season was a combination of highs and lows. In classic 'trick-or-treat' fashion, Allen could go from great to awful from game to game, or even from play to play, with no rule.
To be sure, he's still one of the NBA's best defenders, and his season ended on a high note. Allen can lock down many of the best offensive players in the league, and Exhibit A was his work on Kevin Durant in the first round of the playoffs. Even Durant couldn't get a good shot off against Allen's brand of physical defense, one which features a flurry of hand and body movement and whatever level of pushing, grinding, and sometimes fouling is necessary to get the job done. In that first round series, Durant shot just 44.0% from the field and 32.1% from three as a result of Allen's pressure.
But Allen's chaotic nature isn't plug-and-play, and we saw why when Marc Gasol went down with a knee injury in December. For all the steals he intercepts and the value of his help defense instincts, Allen's tendency to roam can bite his team in the back when the rest of the team can't seal up the hole he leaves. Again, he's a total wildcard on the court. Allen might even be as much a liability as he is helpful when he has the freedom to wander away from his check on defense, as opposed to guarding a player that constantly has the ball in his hands.
And on the other end, we know well by now that Allen just doesn't help on offense. For all that he can do on defense, what he can't do on the other end has always held him back. Allen is all too willing to shoot the jumpers that he shoots thirty percent on, and most of the meaningful contributions he makes boils down to being opportunistic: layups in transition or backdoor cuts.
With the likes of Tayshaun Prince and James Johnson filling out the rest of the Grizzlies' wing corps, it was usually hard to play Allen in lineups that could carry their weight on offense. The key to getting the most out of lineups including Allen was to make sure they were effective on both ends, not just defense. The Allen and Johnson duo was always a manic (and more importantly, effective) blitzkrieg of fun to watch on defense, but even though Mike Miller was typically deployed with them, the offense could never get by.
The addition of Vince Carter should help, giving the Grizzlies another wing to go with Courtney Lee that can create offense. That should make it easier to put Allen on the court in effective two-way lineups. Even if he's a bit short for a wing, Allen guards bigger wings well (duh, Durant), and so long as the team's perimeter players can generate enough offense, playing Allen with another 6'5" wing shouldn't be a problem.
This season should be a better one for Allen overall, especially if Gasol stays healthy to anchor the defense. There's a logjam at the wing spots, but Allen probably has a rotation spot locked down. He played 23.2 minutes per game last season, sixth on the Grizzlies, and if I had to make a bet, my money would be on that number rising. It's not at all out of the question for him to return to the starting lineup, alongside Carter or Lee (this is in a utopia where Dave Joerger doesn't make Tayshaun Prince his answer to everything).
Interestingly, Allen's been involved in a handful of trade rumors over the last year, including one that would've sent him to the Los Angeles Clippers on draft night. The $15 million owed to him over the next three years (paying him until he's 35) means the Grizzlies will or at least should listen to the trade offers they hear for him, although it may take a really good one to convince them to actually go through with it.
But right now, Allen looks set to remain a part of the Grizzlies' core and identity. If another wing can provide the offense that he can't, Allen should be a game-changing defender for the Grizzlies – and hopefully a plus more often than not.