clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

We Miss You Tony: The True Impact of Tony Allen's Absence

Without the Grindfather on the court, Memphis is 6-8 on the season and 2-4 during this recent injury bout. Even from the bench, Tony Allen contributes in major ways to the team's performance. What exactly has been missing with him in suit and tie lately?

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

A Brief History

When Jeff Green was first traded to Memphis, there was a sense of unease among many Grizzlies fans. For others, it represented a chance for the team to finally acquire some offense in the body of a lengthy and athletic perimeter defender. It’s been almost a full three months since that trade, and both Green and the team have gone through ups and downs. However, it still might be premature to make a verdict on the acquisition’s quality, given the intricate team dynamics into which Green was dropped. With Tony Allen sidelined a further week, this is a good opportunity to take a look at his impact and how well Jeff Green has filled that void.

One of the biggest problems with integrating Jeff Green into the Memphis organization was finding a place in the lineup for him that wouldn't disturb the delicate team chemistry. As a 'position-less' athlete on the court, Jeff Green quickly became a replacement for Tony Allen. Unlike the naturally gifted Green, TA has made up for his stature with extraordinary bursts of effort for years. It seemed clear that Green’s role would at least begin as a sub for Tony Allen. But soon after the mid-January trade, coach Joerger already found a starting role for Green, and he surpassed Allen in minutes/game.

Correlation does not equal causation, but many fans do look to that decision and its timing relative to the Grizzlies’ slump with a quizzical look and mutter, "Coincidence? I think not." Part of that opinion is supported by the cold, hard facts which we’ll get into later. But much of it comes from the fact that Jeff Green, a brand new player, took the spot of Memphis’ most defining personality on the court: Tony Allen. The Grindfather himself was benched in favor of a younger, more athletic newcomer, and that immediately didn't sit well with many supporters.

The Missing Element

With Tony Allen currently unable to play even from the bench, it’s high time we look at just what the Grizzlies have missed with him in a lesser role. Another two events that just so happened to coincide are the Tony Allen injury and Memphis’ recent, major slump. Allen left during the Golden State blowout and has been missing from the lineup since. In his absence, coach Joerger has been forced to alter the already-in-limbo lineups to accommodate for the loss. Here’s each player’s minutes/game from when Jeff Green was first traded (all the way to Allen’s injury) compared to their minutes after Allen’s injury. Goodness, where has the time gone?

Player

Pre-Injury Minutes/Game

Post-Injury Minutes/Game

Change in Minutes/Game

Zach Randolph

32.6

31.1

-1.5

Marc Gasol

32.2

33.7

1.5

Mike Conley

30.3

34.4

4.1

Jeff Green

29.7

32.9

3.2

Courtney Lee

28.4

33.5

5.1

Tony Allen

27.4

N/A

N/A

Beno Udrih

18.6

17.8

-0.8

Kosta Koufos

17.7

17.6

-0.1

Nick Calathes

16.4

12.1

-4.3

Vince Carter

15.2

20.4

5.2

Obviously things have changed dramatically, but looking at the biggest of those changes we can start to rule out different hypotheses on the Grizzlies’ struggles. For minutes/game specifically, the biggest increases have come on the part of Conley, Lee, and Carter. The Conley minutes increase is almost exactly equal to the decreases in Udrih and Calathes' minutes. That leaves us with Courtney Lee and Vince Carter. Just typing that brought on a wave of realization. Losing Tony hasn’t made the team worse because of any Jeff Green problems, it’s because the Grizzlies have played Courtney and Vince almost 10.5 more minutes per game! There was once a time when playing Vince five extra minutes seemed like a dream come true...

Warning: NSFW (it IS an Air Canada dunk compilation) and obnoxious electronic music present

In that dream, Memphis was raining down threes from all over and bringing home the Western Conference title at least. Reality paints a radically different picture, however. Just from win-loss records, Lee’s detrimental impact is clear: the team is just 1-4 in games since the All-Star break in which Lee plays over 32 minutes. Look at the stats from Green, Allen, Lee, and Carter in that time frame:

Player

FGA/%

3PA/%

REB

PTS

Green

10.9/44.8

2.9/44.3

4.6

13.8

Allen

8.2/53.1

0.4/50

5.7

9.9

Lee

8.4/37.8

3.1/26.5

2.3

8.6

Carter

5.2/35.3

3.2/38.2

2.1

5.4

By nearly every meaningful stat, Jeff Green and Tony Allen are performing so much better than Courtney Lee and Vince Carter. Granted, Lee technically plays a different position and is on the court at the same time as Green or TA, but there’s still something wrong with this picture. With that discrepancy in shooting, rebounding, and scoring you might think, "Well we should just put Tony out there with Jeff at the same time and send those other guys back to their Arctic homes, where their shooting would fit right in." And you’d be right! Check out how the different Memphis lineups have performed on average since Jeff Green arrived:

Lineup

FG%

3P%

REB

AST

TOV

STL

PTS

+/-

Green, Lee, C.G.R

45

29.3

11.4

6.4

4.1

2.3

28.2

-0.6

Allen, Lee, C.G.R.

48

42.5

4.5

2.3

1.6

1.4

12.7

0.8

Green, Lee, Udrih, Gasol, Randolph

50

46.5

6.9

3.9

2.7

0.9

16.7

0.9

Allen, Green, C.G.R.

51.2

54.5

4.8

1.9

1.4

0.5

10.5

2.2

C.G.R= Conley, Gasol, Randolph combination

Much of the lineup data will be skewed from total number of minutes played (especially rebounds, turnovers, points, and assists), but a look at the last row shows that Tony Allen and Jeff Green get along just fine. In fact, that lineup has the best shooting stats of them all! It’s been said ad nauseam but the biggest problem with this Grizzlies era is lack of perimeter shooting. It’s what continues to haunt the team today and is a major factor in why many pundits have stopped giving the team any chance at doing some damage in the playoffs. But putting Allen and Green out there together seems like an easy and obvious solution. Clearly coach Joerger has toyed with it before (it’s one of the top three most used combos) and the results are promising at the very least: the lineup’s win/loss record is 15-7 (68.2%).

Baby Come Back

Tony Allen’s absence has a negative impact for a number of reasons, but one very obvious one is that Memphis has been unable to use their most effective lineup. But just by himself, Allen remains one of the biggest contributors to Memphis’ success, as he has been for years. Since the All-Star break, he still holds a +7.5 Plus/Minus and has boosted most of his stats in the process. While 99.9% of the entire team has gotten worse on paper and very clearly on the court, Tony Allen continues to bring the passion and put up meaningful numbers. His stats aren't padded by garbage points or stolen rebounds; they’re earned through an entire roster’s worth of blood, sweat, and all-out effort. In games missing that source of energy on the floor, Memphis is only 6-8.

As we've seen, an obvious remedy for the scoring woes that Memphis undergoes almost nightly is to use the Conley, Allen, Green, Randolph, Gasol lineup. Whether or not coach Joerger feels this way doesn't really even matter right now because Tony Allen is out for at least a week. Even if the team didn't use that lineup again, losing TA for this stretch has been a major blow to the Grizzlies’ stats, but more importantly their chemistry and Grit ‘n Grind spirit.