Do we need to talk about how tough it was to watch Tayshaun Prince last season? Andrew Ford broke down Prince's jumper here (AS IF IT WASN'T BROKEN DOWN ALREADY, RIGHT?), and Joe Mullinax famously broke himself over Prince here. Those two pieces and the trail of destruction they left in the GBB email threads encapsulated the struggle of watching Prince last season.
Prince was one of the league's least efficient players, even while occupying a background role in the Memphis Grizzlies' offense. Out of 337 qualified players, he tied for the sixth lowest True Shooting Percentage with .438 on the 41st lowest usage percentage at 13.3%, a true tribute to crappy basketball shooting.
The fact, though, is that Prince got his minutes last season. The best we can do is try to justify them to ourselves, in an effort to count ourselves mistaken against something we can't stop that seems so obviously wrong. With every decision he makes, NBA Coach Man Dave Joerger is probably operating from a higher plane of basketball thinking than any of us are. But it's just so hard to say that Prince should've been the starter last season under any rational line of thinking, and with Vince Carter in and Quincy Pondexter on the mend, Prince might need to be booted from the rotation altogether this season.
Defense used to be Prince's calling card in the past, and the length and positioning intellect that have been the hallmark elements of his defensive game still help him today. But age has sapped his mobility, and that just kills him when it comes to shuffling his feet, running out at shooters and fighting past screens. Having a supersized shot contest radius can bail him out sometimes and his wingspan is a strength that enables him to get by in specific matchups (among them, Kevin Durant), but it doesn't make up for his athletic limitations.
Prince grades out to be about average on defense these days. He fills a niche on the Grizzlies' roster, with no other player on the team utilizing size, length and smarts as their claim to fame as a perimeter defender. Tony Allen can succeed against bigger wings, but he isn't big himself and there are scenarios where size can be an important advantage.
Still, it's just so hard to justify playing Prince regularly, especially as the starter, when his pros are so few and his cons are so many. With two wings that play both ends of the court in Courtney Lee and Vince Carter, a potential third one in Quincy Pondexter, and a much better defensive specialist in Tony Allen, Prince should hopefully and finally fall down the depth chart. For this season, Prince might be best served in a utility role, as a rangy wing defender and/or a small ball 4.
And as a side note, Prince could be a dark horse in the competition for the backup power forward designation, with Jon Leuer and Jarnell Stokes the other names in the mix. But as we've seen from Ed Davis and Darrell Arthur over the last few years, that's not really a glamorous role.
It's no fun to talk about restricting anyone's minutes when they're getting paid nearly $8 million, but with how Prince labors around the court these days, everyone is as well as waiting for his contract to expire after this year. An expiring contract might have some trade value near the trade deadline, but trading Prince's deal would presumably require the Grizzlies to take on some long-term salary and the Grizzlies' current quota is to remain flexible until impending free agents Marc Gasol (expires after this season) and Mike Conley (after next season) are locked up long term.
That's not to say a trade can't happen – the Grizzlies jumped the gun on the rest of the league by trading for Courtney Lee before the market value of his skillset skyrocketed this offseason. This is a team that is quietly cognizant of its financial environment. I'm sure most Grizzlies fans would love to see a Prince trade, and the team may just find reason to pull one.
But just seeing Prince's minutes regress would do it for most everyone. The Grizzlies have gathered a number of exciting and most likely superior alternatives on the wing over the last calendar year – hopefully this is the season where Dave Joerger turns to them over his twilighting veteran.