Robert Frost is widely considered one of the truly great American poets. Frost had a remarkable talent for taking the beauty of rustic, scenic Americana and portraying it in remarkably colloquial ways. Whether it was describing woods on a snowy evening, or detailing the surroundings of a traveler with a difficult choice ahead of him, Frost captured the essence of rural America as well as anyone.
When I hear or read Frost's work, it reminds me of Tony Allen. The use of informal language, the visual of the weary traveler in "The Road Not Taken" makes me think of the unique and rugged skill set that has endeared Grizzlies fans to "TA." He is as colloquial of a shooting guard as you will ever see; a walking anomaly, the shooting guard who cannot consistently shoot, the undersized wing who can defend Chris Paul one series and Kevin Durant the next. His heart and intensity cannot be denied, as is evident in this video of TA defending Durant.
However, this season Tony Allen got injured. The Grizzlies traded Jerryd Bayless for Courtney Lee, and the offense came alive. With the return of Marc Gasol, the defense has begun to right the ship. The Grizzlies are 5-2 with Tony Allen out due to his wrist injury, and Lee provided wing scoring in addition to solid defense. He may not be the all-world defender that TA is, but his contributions on the offensive end of the floor offset that a good bit.
So, as the Grizzlies continue their march back to the playoff picture, the front office, and Tony, approach a divergence. Three roads, and they all cannot be traveled. The decisions made going forth will alter the course of Grizzlies history and likely the way the players and fans view the Levien/Joerger regime. Which road should be traveled in the curious case of Tony Allen?
Tony Allen- The Starter
Of course, Tony Allen has done a pretty good job the past few seasons in a starting role for the Memphis Grizzlies. Three All-Defensive teams have led to the entire Association acknowledging him as one of, if not the, best perimeter defenders in the NBA. Tony has also improved his offensive game this season. For example, here is Tony Allen's shot chart from last season, followed by his 2013-2014 shot chart.
Tony has been able to convert his baskets in the lane at a higher than usual clip, which enabled the Grizzlies offense to be able to trust him more with the ball than they had been able to do in the past. You will, however, undoubtedly notice the 19% shooting from three point land. Between Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince, the two Grizzly starting wings for much of this season and the post-Rudy Gay era, they are shooting about 25% from three this season. That is too low from starting wings in the current incarnation of the NBA to be successful.
"Trick of Treat" earns his nickname in the turnover department as well; in his three seasons with the Grizzlies before this year he has had 86, 94 and 94 turnovers. In 27 games played so far this season, TA has 49 turnovers, almost double his usual pace. Those turnovers have hurt the Grizzlies, as one of the major reasons for the Grizzlies slow start this season was their inability to protect the basketball.
So while Tony has the pedigree of an All-NBA defender, his offensive woes may negatively affect a Grizzlies team that already has issues putting the ball in the basket. The Grizzlies shooting percentage in the first quarter is their worst of any quarter. Falling behind early in games kills a teams game plan and energy as they attempt to fight back in to a contest. Perhaps his unique skill set could be best used in another way...path number 2.
Tony Allen- the Sixth Man
This is a Grizzlies team without a true sixth man. James Johnson has played well in spurts, and is a solid energy player, but he is still too foul prone to be depended on for extended minutes. Ed Davis/Jon Leuer/Kosta Koufos eat in to each others minutes depending on the match-up. Mike Miller is played too many minutes as it is, so he cannot fill that void.
Perhaps Tony Allen can be that guy, allowing for Tayshaun Prince's length to stay at the 3 to start games and Courtney Lee can help space the floor. Tony Allen could be the first man in, for Tayshaun, defending the Small Forward position for spurts. If he can defend Kevin Durant, he can stay with most anyone regardless of height.
You nullify Tony's offensive woes by keeping shooters with him at all times; Calathes/TA/Lee/Leuer/Davis, Conley/TA/Miller/Z-Bo/Koufos, as long as Tony is paired with other players that are capable of spreading the floor, his defense can be the focus of his game. With a more athletic line-up, you let TA run and finish in transition, scoring while attacking the rim, which is his strength. All the while, Tony matches up with bench wings instead of starters, keeping him more fresh for the second half in which he can chase around the James Hardens and Steph Currys of the world.
That would be good, because Tony Allen has struggled at times with various wings defensively this season. Whether it is because he over-helps, he has "lost a step" or because of the coaching change, Tony has not been up to the task against starting level wings. Take a look at this screen shot from hoopsstats.com that measures efficiency match-ups so far this season in games TA played 25+ minutes against those players.
His wins, or pluses in individual match-ups differentials, are against mostly bench players. However, his losses, or minus efficiency differentials, are against mostly starters, or starter level players like Manu Ginobili. Tony playing against lesser competition may be getting the most efficiency out of him at this point.
How much is that efficiency worth, however? With a little less than $35 million tied up in the shooting guard position between Tony Allen, Quincy Pondexter and Courtney Lee the next 3 seasons, what is the value of a defensive sixth man with offensive limitations? On to path 3...
Tony Allen, The Trade Chip
Ah yes, truly "The Road Not Taken." Tony Allen has value as a shut down defender, something that other teams would surely covet. If Tayshaun Prince is unmovable, whether because of the coaching staff and front office liking his length on the wing or his declining ability and high contract, perhaps Tony Allen is the piece that can provide value alongside an Ed Davis or Kosta Koufos that can fill other holes in the Grizzlies. Here are a couple of possibilities, courtesy of the ESPN Trade Machine.
Memphis Receives- R. Sessions, J.McRoberts, 2014 1st Round Draft Pick (from Trailblazers)
Charlotte Receives- T.Allen, K.Koufos
Memphis gets the proven back-up PG that they
arguably so sorely need, plus a solid 4th/5th big in McRoberts. In addition, the Grizzlies receive a 1st round pick to use either in the draft itself or as another tool to try to trade Tayshaun. Charlotte gets a great defender and an upgrade at back-up center in Koufos who would compliment Al Jefferson well.
Memphis Receives- Kevin Martin
Minnesota Receives- Tony Allen, Kosta Koufos
The Grizzlies get another shooting wing who can play as a starter or off the bench as the sixth man while Lee starts. Minnesota has scoring, so they improve defensively through TA and with Koufos, who can defend the rim quite effectively.
Upon reviewing these options, while they fill holes, they do not necessarily solve problems. Money is still a real issue in the Martin trade (not to mention Martin's defensive struggles), and Sessions and McRoberts, while netting a valuable 1st round pick, does not push the needle enough in the Grizzlies favor. Is it possible that, much like Zach Randolph, a Tony Allen deal will not net enough value to complete?
Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" is an American classic, similar to Tony Allen in a way. Rustic, unique, simple yet complex, much like the Grindfather's game. Upon TA's return, the Grizzlies front office will reach those paths, whether to go down the road of the imperfect starter, the uncertain sixth man or the unthinkable, the trade of "The Grindfather." All three roads are potentially filled with dangers and uncertainty; Tony the starter means offensive issues and limiting Courtney Lee's potential, Tony the sixth man leads to value problems and possible confidence ones and trading Tony will create a fan base eruption and may not bring back equal value.
The road that they choose to travel will ultimately make all the difference.
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