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Heir to the Grindfather

Does Memphis have anyone capable of replacing Tony Allen?

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

At the lowest points of the 2015-16 season, Memphis Grizzlies fans were forced to ponder a life without Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, two of the founding fathers of the “Grit N Grind” Grizzlies.

The season was a success considering the vast amount of injuries and turnover the team had. 42-40 with a playoff berth is nothing to be too upset about, but the injuries and 28(!) players on the active roster were disheartening. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen played in the 3rd and 4th most games of all Memphis players last year, but a (relatively) down season for the team naturally leads fans to think about the future.

It’s hard to think about a future for the Grizzlies that includes both Randolph and Allen in prominent roles. For the 2016-17 season, Zach Randolph has excelled as a 6th man while JaMychal Green has joined the starting lineup to give the team length and athleticism defensively. Also, having Green in the starting lineup immediately provides better spacing offensively for the Grizzlies when going up against starting units for other teams.

Let’s get it straight though, the Grizzlies do not need to bench Tony Allen. Not only has he been great defensively, but no one else on the roster provides the Grizzlies a better chance to win at the SG spot. We do, however, need to think about the future. The Power Forward position has an heir apparent to Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies should wonder if the heir to Tony Allen is on the roster or if they need to acquire him in the offseason.

Options on the Roster

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Grizzlies have three young players with the potential to play Shooting Guard in the future, in no particular order:

  • James Ennis
  • Andrew Harrison
  • Troy Daniels

According to Basketball-Reference, James Ennis has played 75% of his minutes at Small Forward this season, but the Grizzlies have been playing with Chandler Parsons on a minutes restriction. James Ennis has played Shooting Guard before and could easily move back to that position. A lack of other capable 3s has forced James Ennis to play almost exclusively at SF. However, Harrison and Daniels have played the majority of their minutes at SG.

The future of the Grizzlies includes and depends on Chandler Parsons. He earned a $94 million contract in the offseason. So assuming (hoping, praying) that Parsons will become an effective starting 3 for the Grizz, this will be an attempt to find the best player to play next to Mike Conley in the backcourt.

James Ennis

2016-17 PER: 11.2 TS%: .608 On-Off(per 100 possessions): +2.8

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

James Ennis has been having a quietly good year for the Grizzlies. While Chandler Parsons was recovering from his injured knee, James Ennis was the starting Small Forward. In fact, he’s started exactly half of the games he’s appeared in.

James Ennis is the largest of the 3 options. Pairing him with Chandler Parsons would give the Grizzlies serious length on defense.

That would be the reason for James Ennis taking this spot. He’s one of the best perimeter defenders the Grizzlies have, and is very valuable in that sense.

According to NBAMath’s Defensive Points Saved (DPS), Ennis is the 4th best defender on the Grizzlies, and it’s easy to see why.

On this play, Karl-Anthony Towns backs down Ennis, a much smaller defender. This would normally be an easy victory for Towns, but Ennis refuses to give up any position. Ennis then gambles and uses his long arms to poke the ball loose and cause a turnover.

In transition, James Ennis drew a foul and knocked down both free throws. That’s the best Tony Allen impression any of these three could offer.

James Ennis is a much more efficient scorer than Tony Allen, however. Allen has never been known for his offensive prowess, but Ennis does not make many mistakes offensively. Ennis leads the team in True Shooting % and 3-Point % as well.

As efficient as James Ennis is at shooting, he’s not exactly prolific. Ennis only attempts 5.4 shots per game. He can’t create for himself, so he relies on a lot of spot-up opportunities. His ball handling skills are below-average, so putting him at Shooting Guard may expose those deficiencies.

As a small forward, James Ennis can hide that more easily. While Ennis could run off of screens and run other off-ball action to get open, the Grizzlies have two great playmakers in Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.

Here, James Ennis does not have to move at all. But Gasol holding the ball in the high post is worrisome for defenses. Avery Bradley tries to help double-team Gasol, which leaves Ennis wide-open for a corner 3.

This isn’t a difficult shot, but it’s important. With Gasol and Conley, it’s important to have players who can excel in catch-and-shoot situations. According to NBA.com, James Ennis has a eFG% of 61.5%, which is exactly what we’re looking for here.

There is a surplus of Shooting Guards on the active roster, but there are only 2 players capable of playing Small Forward: Chandler Parsons and James Ennis. While Ennis may be a good option to play at Shooting Guard, he may have to stay at SF for scarcity reasons.

Andrew Harrison

2016-17 PER: 8.5 TS%: .469 On-Off: -3.9

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Harrison has the worst numbers of these three options, but there’s a bit to like about his game. Harrison is still a rookie, and one learning a new position at that. He came into the NBA as a point guard from Kentucky, but with Mike Conley and Toney Douglas (for now), Harrison has played the majority of his minutes at SG.

It has to be encouraging for Harrison to be getting 22 minutes a game while fellow rookie Wade Baldwin fluctuates between D-League assignment and being on the active roster.

And there’s more upside. The above numbers may be worse than the other options, but Harrison’s ball-handling provides a lot more to the offense than Ennis or Daniels can currently. Ironically, some of the best uses of Harrison come when he’s running the offense so Mike Conley can get open.

Right now, Conley is excellent at creating his own shot as well as distributing. So the majority of the Grizzlies’ plays start with a pick-and-pop with Conley as the ball-handler and Gasol as the screener. For Conley to score, it works almost instantly the second he gets separation from his defender. The moment Conley gets just enough space, or a favorable matchup, he often pulls up and drains the shot.

When Conley has to create against tougher defenders, he obviously has to work harder, and it usually ends in contested shots or a broken play. Here, Stephen Curry dodged Gasol’s screen well and kept up with Conley. Curry was able to stay in front of Conley the whole time, leading to a contested floater that didn’t go in.

This is how Harrison can be a benefit to the offense. Instead of relying on on-ball screens, Conley can get open a lot quicker through staggered screens, elevator door plays, and other off-ball action. Harrison has solid passing skills, so he could be serviceable bringing the ball up so that Conley can score more easily.

Here, Marc Gasol is the facilitator and Mike Conley comes off of a slight screen from Tony Allen. Cameron Payne can’t keep up with him and Conley gets enough room to drive for the floater.

Andrew Harrison can facilitate this action and allow Marc Gasol to work elsewhere on the floor. This is a good variation of the offense for Memphis, but it’s not going to be the bread and butter of the offense. Mike Conley is one of the best Point Guards in the league; the ball should still be in his hand to start the majority of plays.

This is where the idea loses traction. Andrew Harrison is not good enough of a scorer to work off-the-ball. His True Shooting % is the 3rd worst on the Grizzlies and he is shooting 26% on three-pointers. While the Grizzlies are willing to deal with that offensive inefficiency with Tony Allen, Andrew Harrison isn’t providing Tony Allen defense.

This isn’t to say Andrew Harrison’s defense is bad, it’s pretty solid for a rookie. No one on this list can play defense comparable to Tony Allen, very few people in the league can, but Harrison does a great job of using his size against defenders. Harrison is 6’6” with a 6’9” wingspan. Since Harrison isn’t a lockdown defender, he plays passing lanes aggressively.

JaMychal Green hedged on the screen-and-roll and although Trey Lyles was open, Andrew Harrison jumped the pass and forced a turnover.

Harrison’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus (DBPM) is actually better than Mike Conley’s. It’s not a perfect statistic, but it is encouraging to see for a rookie (and in no way a knock on Conley’s defense). If Harrison can find a way to score more efficiently he can be a solid two-way player in the NBA by building on his defense.

Troy Daniels

PER: 11.7 TS%: .547 On-Off: +2.6

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Folks, Troy Daniels shoots. He does not do much else, but shooting is technically the first half of his job title anyway.

Let’s give credit where credit is due however. Troy Daniels is an above-average 3-point shooter and efficient despite his volume. Daniels only plays 17.3 minutes a game, but still shoots over 5 3-pointers a game at 39%. He is the Grizzlies’ best deep threat outside of Mike Conley.

Memphis has very notably been lacking in this category for a few years, so Troy Daniels plays an important role already. Troy Daniels also works really hard to get these shots. Troy Daniels runs around lots of screens and with a great playmaker like Mike Conley on the team, Daniels gets plenty of opportunities to score.

For example, on this play, Troy Daniels runs all the way across the court as Zach Randolph sets a hard screen on Corey Brewer. Although Brewer was able to eventually recover and contest the shot, Daniels got enough separation to catch-and-shoot and drain the three.

Troy Daniels has also shown an ability to work on the ball as well. Here as the ball-handler, Daniels gets a screen from Marc Gasol and a breakdown in the defense was all Troy Daniels needed to step up and hit another three.

Troy Daniels’ defense is problematic however. He is already at a disadvantage by being undersized. His DPBM, Defensive Rating, and DPS are all dead last on the Grizzlies by a considerable margin. That’s not good. In fact, it’s bad. Typically, one’s more willing to overlook bad defense because of the shooting that Daniels provides.

But it isn’t just bad, it’s disastrous. It’s easier to deal with when Daniels is playing 17 minutes a game, it would become a much bigger problem if Daniels were to play starter minutes.

Verdict

All three of these players are valuable to the Grizzlies. They all should continue to produce in the future for as long as they are on the roster. However, none of them are long-term solutions at Shooting Guard.

James Ennis has been a revelation of sorts for Memphis. The Grizzlies now know they have a capable backup if Chandler Parsons is unable to play. That’s extremely valuable considering Parsons’ injury history. It might be best suited to keep Ennis at the 3.

Andrew Harrison provides interesting offensive possibilities and solid effort defensively, but with the possible permanent addition of Toney Douglas the Grizzlies don’t need Harrison to let Conley play off-ball. Meanwhile, Troy Daniels 3-point shooting isn’t quite enough to justify being the new starting shooting guard when Tony Allen leaves.

The Memphis Grizzlies have had a poor draft history. While it could be possible for the front office to fix that with just one good pick, one shouldn’t depend on it.

Unless their draft fortunes change or the above players improve their games, the post-Tony Allen era Shooting Guard will most likely come from free agency.

Statistics courtesy of basketball-reference.com and video clips from 3ball.io

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