Flex on ‘em, Tony. You’ve earned it. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
If you’re reading us, you probably already know that Tony Allen’s really good at Twitter. Well, “really good” in a “randomly stringing together letters, vowel sounds and half-sentences to create something akin to stream-of-consciousness refrigerator poetry” sort of way.. which is to say, a very legitimate sort of way, indeed.
So it came as no surprise when, just after Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal and Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday that the two-time All-Defensive First Team shooting guard had reached agreement on a $20 million deal to remain the all-grit, all-grind heart of the Memphis Grizzlies, Allen dropped a fitting microblogging opening salvo:
He quickly finished that thought, expressing gratitude for his state of affairs and the interest shown him in free agency by the Milwaukee Bucks and head coach Larry Drew, before putting a perfect bow on the signing:
Yes, Tony, you most certainly are. And that seems like a good thing for Memphis, and a pretty fair deal for both sides.
OK, first, the big caveats, from where I sit:
• Offense. One of the big problems that reared its head during the Grizzlies’ four-game Western Conference finals sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs was an ugly lack of reliable long-range shooting beyond emerging small forward Quincy Pondexter. Without multiple wings who could make San Antonio’s perimeter defenders pay for sagging off them at the arc, the Spurs were able to devote much more attention to disrupting big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol by clogging lanes for entry passes to establish them in the post, swiping down with quick double-teams when they started to make moves, and getting extra arms and legs in the way to deter bull-rushes to the basket. They were able to do this, in part, because they weren’t the least bit concerned about Allen hurting them from the perimeter.
Allen basically never shoots 3-pointers, having attempted only 105 in 309 games over the past five seasons; considering he’s a well-below-average 26.9 percent career shooter from beyond the arc, this is actually some pretty decent knowledge of self (determination), but it’s also something that 29 other NBA teams know, too. The unreliable jumper travels inside the arc, too; Allen’s hit more than 35 percent of his midrange shots just twice times in a nine-year NBA career, according to NBA.com’s stat tool. If the Grizzlies are going to play Allen heavy minutes at the shooting guard spot (which they are) and two proper big men heavy minutes at the four and the five (which they are), then smart defenses will continue to sink, sag and dare.
• Age. Allen will turn 32 about 2 1/2 months into next season, and will now be on the books to make a fully guaranteed amount reported to be $5.5 million at age 35 during the 2016-17 season. For a player who derives an awful lot of his value from the athleticism and lateral quickness necessary to stay with and lock up hiccup-quick perimeter scorers, who has had surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his left knee (albeit all the way back in 2007) and who has at times suffered through other nagging knee and groin injuries over the past couple of seasons, that’s a bit scary.
Beyond that, though.. I mean, Tony Allen kind of is the Memphis Grizzlies. He might not produce a ton of offensive value from the two-guard spot, but he routinely limits his wing opposition to at least an equal degree, and whose 6-foot-4 frame and 6-foot-9 wingspan makes him the dampening agent of choice for opponents ranging from Chris Paul and Tony Parker to Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.
Not only does he work his tail off to deny the ball, fight through screens and contest every shot he can, but he also does so without fouling at obscene rates, averaging fewer than four personals per 36 minutes in each of his three seasons in Tennessee despite checking the other team’s best scorer every night. And while his offensive limitations are what they are at this point, he’s become much more adept over the years at using the disrespect he receives to his advantage, becoming a better off-ball cutter behind sleeping defenders and a very active helper for the likes of Randolph and Gasol on the offensive glass.
He does what he can with the skill-set he’s got on the offensive end and everything he can to take away the skill-set you’ve got on the other end, and he does it all with something between a snarl and a smile. He’s got a very legitimate claim to the title of “Best Perimeter Defender in the World (Non-LeBron James Division)” and has (along with Gasol) been the linchpin of a defensive juggernaut that has finished eighth, seventh and second in the NBA in points allowed per possession over his three seasons in Memphis. He totally owns the role of The Grindfather of The Grindhouse in a way that it’s hard to envision any other player really matching.
Sure, the Grizzlies would benefit from a shooting guard who could, y’know, shoot. But wing players with sweet strokes seem to be getting sweeter deals this offseason — Kevin Martin got four years and $28 million from a Minnesota Timberwolves team that will also pay Chase Budinger more than $5 million a year, J.J. Redick’s getting four years and $27 million from the Los Angeles Clippers, Martell Webster’s getting four years and $22 million from the Washington Wizards — and it’d remain an open question whether the offensive gains would outweigh the defensive losses of subtracting an all-world perimeter hound.
If you’ve got to choose between the devil you know will take a little bit less money and the devil you don’t know will help you maintain the identity you’ve built, the former seems like a comparatively sound bet, which is why Allen’s back on his / Grizzly. Thank goodness for that.