This past Tuesday, the Memphis Grizzlies played the Miami Heat. Matt Barnes, serving the first half of a two-game suspension, did not play, and a player was needed to fill his role. Head Coach Dave Joerger selected Zach Randolph, a guy who had previously started over 400 games for the Grizzlies, to resume that role, and Grizzlies public address announcer Rick Trotter was once again able to yell out "NUMBER FITTY FOR THE CITY" to the delight of all assembled in the FedExForum.
Against Miami, it was the right call. Against the Utah Jazz Saturday night, it would not be.
The Heat are not interested in attempting threes, shooting only two more per game than Memphis does. Chris Bosh, while his game resembles that of a wing more and more nowadays, is a big, and it made sense to play Zach Randolph against him, despite defensive issues that arose at times. Zach especially rose to the occasion late in the game on defense in ways that a smaller player perhaps would not have been able to.
The Utah Jazz present a different look, and therefore a different opportunity. This is where Tony Allen comes in to play.
Yes, Tony Allen, the Grindfather himself, who has played damn good basketball since returning from his knee soreness. In the past five games, Tony Allen has posted a net rating of +11.6, which would be best among all Grizzlies since the start of the "small-ball" era December 13th. He sports the best defensive rating of any Memphis player who has played more than 100 minutes over that stretch at 94.3, and he shockingly is also the owner of the fourth best offensive rating at 105.9, trailing only Mike Conley (108.2), Jeff Green (108) and Marc Gasol (106.3). He has the look of the Tony Allen of old-
And that is precisely why he should start against the Utah Jazz. Rudy Gobert, the Jazz's dominant defensive presence at Center, will be out Saturday night for the Jazz with an injury. There is a chance that Derrick Favors, their great Power Forward, will be as well, and even if he does play he will likely not be 100%. Utah's front court will be ripe for the picking, and looking for mismatches there must be a priority.
While Mario Chalmers looked good in an expanded role Tuesday night with Barnes out, he likely needs to continue to come off the bench to spell Mike Conley...especially with Russ Smith now gone. Zach Randolph could start again, but he cannot attack the rim with the force and athleticism that Jeff Green can. Exhibit A-
The best way to get Jeff Green in to that four spot again to take advantage of mismatches is to start Tony Allen. That gives you a starting unit of Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Tony Allen, Jeff Green, and Marc Gasol. Not the sharpshootingest crew to ever play the game of basketball, but there is mismatch potential everywhere. Trey Lyles, if he starts for Utah, cannot possibly keep up with Jeff defensively. On offense, Lyles, at 6'10" 234 pounds, cannot physically dominate Jeff and his game is much more based outside of the lane- he is a very poor man's Bosh in this way. Utah will not be able to make Memphis pay for playing the smaller crew. Here is a chance for Dave Joerger to perhaps nullify Zach's issues defending on the perimeter.
Tony Allen starting would also lead the way for TA to try to "turn the water off" on Gordon Hayward, a player who is underachieving so far this season but is capable of cooking these Grizzlies at any point. Rodney Hood can be defended by Courtney Lee, and whoever Utah trots out at Point Guard to start the game (the Jazz are having some serious health issues) can be defended by Mike Conley. Tony Allen thrives in those spots, and this would be a good opportunity to let the hungry dog hunt, so to speak.
That isn't to say that Zach should not play at all; on the contrary- he should see just as many minutes as both Tony and Jeff. Trevor Booker figures to be a big piece of Utah's game plan, and that is a match-up that Zach Randolph should not only welcome, but abuse. Trey Burke, who comes off the bench for major minutes for the Jazz, can be checked by Mario Chalmers, and as long as Dave Joerger does not trot out any true second-unit looks (Chalmers/Vince Carter/JaMychal Green/Z-Bo/Ryan Hollins...yuck) Zach should be able to provide some nice scoring punch off the bench, which is currently missing. Get TA or Jeff out early in the first, and let Zach get in there and get to work.
Will Zach Randolph still start Saturday? Probably. Rewarding the Grindfather, however, and still get a version of that small-ball look you deployed for nine games before the Barnes suspension. It is a win-win; TA has returned with a vengeance so far, and putting him in a spot to have success in a role he desires would pay off down the road when, say, Matt Barnes returns next week. Zach has shown the capacity to accept not starting, and Allen could make life easier for Courtney Lee and Jeff Green defensively so they can have a greater impact on offense. The minutes and how they are distributed are what really matter, but a quick start (or a slow start for Hayward, hopefully) would make a lot of difference for a Grizzlies' team still searching for a run of good play.
An engaged Tony Allen, even for all of his shortcomings, will be a big piece of any success Memphis hopes to have down the road in 2016. With that in mind, a spot start for TA could go a long way toward massaging his ego and acknowledge his great return to play so far.