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Should Tony Allen Be Starting?

Is it too early to be serious about this? Yep, but we’re going there anyway.

Memphis Grizzlies v San Antonio Spurs - Game Two Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

We are now in year four of the “Should Tony Allen be starting” sub-era of the larger Grit n’ Grind era and it could not be a more lit time within that sub-era. Not only is the topic at hand as dicey as it has ever been, but Tony also has been doing some super secret off-court activity that may or may not be linked to an apocalyptic holy war.

Don’t judge me for a shameless plug.

Back to the topic at hand: granted, Tony’s only played in four out of a total of seven games, so there’s not a legitimately large enough sample size to be working with to make any sort of concrete claim either way. But I work with what I got, and what I got ain’t too good.

Let’s take a look at how previous iterations of this argument would work:

Question posed: should Tony Allen continue starting?

At this point a person would say yes and another person would say no. The person who would say yes would say, “his outstanding defense and ability to cause havoc outweighs his atrocious offensive instinct,” while the nay sayer would say, “au contraire, it is his massive ineptitude on the offensive end which counteracts his stellar defense.”

The two then go to the statistics, lineup data, and on-off numbers most of which point to Tony’s aberrant penchant for significantly boosting the team’s efficiency despite being a large negative on the offensive end.

Conclusion: Tony Allen is still worth starting because his defense is so gosh darn great it actually makes those around him better.

Tony Allen possession GIF
Tony Allen dances his way to a new Grizzlies possession

Now let’s take a look at the current iteration of that argument:

Question posed: Should Tony Allen still be starting?

Yea-sayer and nay-sayer disagree, state their reasoning (same as before), and go to the stats once more.

Both look at the stats, and... oh... oh dear. Wh-what is that? What is THAT?? Ohmylanta it’s coming off the page, it’s coming for me! Run! Run for your lives ahhhhhhhhhh it’s eating me alive ahhhhhhhh! [End scene]

Ok, so it’s not THAT bad, but really it is bad. According to Basketball Reference, Tony is putting up some of the worst offensive numbers of his career.

I would once again like to note that it is way too early in the season to bank on these numbers sustaining throughout the season, so take em with a grain of salt.

But that doesn’t excuse the poor start. Allen averages 5.3 points and a half an assist per game on 29.6 percent shooting. That shooting percentage is not hindered by a dreadful three-point percentage as you might expect; in fact his 33.3 percent shooting from deep actually LIFTS his total percentage, if only barely—he’s shooting 29.2 percent from two-point range.

His rebounding, especially on the offensive glass, and steals have been above average as he’s grabbing 4.5 rebounds (half of which are offensive) and two steals per contest. It would appear that at the age of 34—soon to be 35—he’s still doing what he’s always done well, and in fact leads the team in steals per game, steal percentage, offensive rebounds per game, and offensive rebound percentage.

Tony Allen
First Team

At this point we’re at the same place we always have ended up in this argument: his defense trumps his offense and warrants his starting. But the turn occurs in the advanced stats and on-off numbers which are not favorable to Tony.

His offensive rating thus far is a putrid 82 while his defensive rating is a normal-to-above average 101. That net rating would be a -19, almost five times worse than any other mark in his career. Before last night’s game (in which TA did not play) in PER he ranked 10th on the team above only Wade Baldwin IV, Andrew Harrison, Troy Daniels, and Chandler Parsons, who has only played one game. As for win shares, he’s putting up a fat zero and his win shares per 48 minutes rate is a -0.007. The worst win share total of his career previously was 1.6 and the worst ws/48 mark was .072 last year.

Memphis Grizzlies v San Antonio Spurs - Game Two
Rare photo of men trying to catch a magic basketball that’s flying errantly about the arena
Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

His box plus/minus is negative, his value over replacement player is zero, even his wins produced and wins produced per 48 minutes numbers—which in the past have bolstered his status as a starter—are insignificant (via Boxscore Geeks).

And to top it all off, when Tony Allen is on the court this year, Memphis posts an offensive rating of -20.3. That number comes from the Grizzlies’ offensive rating when he’s on the floor (87.3) subtracted by the opponent’s offensive rating when he’s on the floor (107.6). So 87.3 - 107.6= -20.3. That’s such a bad number that you don’t even know if the “offensive” in offensive rating is meant to denote “the opposite of defense” or “truly repugnant.”

When he’s off the floor, the Grizzlies are only marginally worse at -0.4 [(Grizz: 103.4)-(Opponent: 103.7)] meaning that his total contribution between being on the floor and off the floor on both offense and defense adds up to an offensive rating of -19.9.

Tony Gif
When she text you back quick but you aint ready for it

Possibly the worst mark of all, though, is that opponents actually score more when he’s on the floor, shattering the idea of his defensive maelstrom presence that has righteously surrounded him for the past six seasons.

A deep dive into the numbers leaves us with this conclusion: that Tony does not deserve to start anymore, right?

Well, that depends on what the other options are. Those options are Vince Carter (40, but actually playing well), Baldwin (statistically equal), Harrison (statistically equal), Daniels (statistically worse), or hope that Parsons comes back gunning from his injury and move James Ennis to the two.

That last option seems far and away the best of those five, but until Parsons comes back fully healthy, providing the kind of production the Grizzlies paid for in the offseason, that’s not really a viable option either. It should happen eventually, but we’re not quite there yet. Baby steps for Chandelr

There are those who fasted through the Lionel Hollins/Dave Joerger desert of rookie desolation who would like to see Baldwin or Harrison start at the two, and those people have a legitimate claim. But here’s what the Grizzlies should do.

Nothing. If you hadn’t heeded my earlier calls about limited sample size I now am going to force them upon you. Allen has played in only FOUR games—that’s not enough to make the broad accusations that I’ve presented in this work stick. However, don’t entirely dismiss his poor start—it should be worth keeping a close eye on. If there’s no bend in his trend then Memphis will have to start looking to the youngin's, relying on Parsons’ health more than ever, or (bookended shameless plug) look for a guard on the trade market.

Don’t freak out, people. It’s early. There’s plenty of time for improvement. Let’s wait until things stabilize (or don’t) to revisit this conversation later in the season.

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