One of the keystones of the Memphis Grizzlies’ recent run of success has been shooting guard Tony Allen. But the 31-year-old who just signed a four-year, $20 million contract, may find himself on the trading block sooner rather than later.
That’s because of the emergence of fourth-year swingman Quincy Pondexter.
Allen has been an NBA All-Defensive team selection each of the past three seasons, including first-team honors each of the last two. But he’s not much of an offensive threat, something the Grizzlies could use.
Allen averaged 8.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game last season in 26.7 minutes; that’s about on par with what he’s done since coming to the Grizzlies as a free agent in the summer of 2010. In three seasons, he’s averaging 9.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game in 24.5 minutes.
But Allen’s shooting efficiency has gone down each year. In 2010-11, he shot 51 percent from the floor. That dipped to 46.9 percent in 2011-12 and 44.5 percent last season. And as far as 3-point shooting goes, forget it. Allen was 4-for-23 in 2010-11, 8-for-26 in 2011-12 and 3-for-24 last season. That’s 15-for-73 in three seasons, a forgettable 20.5 percent.
His advanced metrics tell a tale of declining returns, as well. He posted a career-high player efficiency rating of 18.3 in 2010-11, a slightly above-average 15.7 in 2011-12 and a sub-par 13.2 in 2012-13.
Allen took over in the starting lineup for O.J. Mayo in 2010-11, starting 31 regular-season games as well as all 13 postseason contests as Memphis made its memorable run that season, upsetting the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round before falling in seven games to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In the playoffs, Allen shot 43.2 percent last year, averaging 10.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists and two steals in 28.1 minutes a game. In 35 career postseason games for Memphis, Allen averages nine points, 4.3 boards, 1.5 assists, 1.8 steals and plays 26.9 minutes while shooting 42.4 percent.
That brings us to Pondexter. He was a first-round pick out of Washington in 2010, taken 26th overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder and immediately traded on draft night to the New Orleans Hornets with Craig Brackens for Cole Aldrich and Morris Peterson.
He landed in Memphis on Christmas Eve 2011 when he was traded by the Hornets for Greivis Vasquez after the lockout ended.
It’s been a slow climb for Pondexter, who played just 11.1 minutes a game as a rookie with the Hornets before increasing his run to 15.7 minutes in his first season with the Grizzlies and 21.1 minutes last year.
In 2012-13, Pondexter averaged 6.4 points, 2.2 rebounds and an assist per game, shooting 42.8 percent from the floor.
But what separates him from Allen is his ability from deep—Pondexter shot 39.5 percent from 3-point range (60-for-152), but he did miss 23 games because of a sprained MCL.
In the playoffs, his playing time increased to 23.8 minutes and he averaged 8.9 points and 2.5 boards while shooting a sizzling 45.3 percent from long range (24-for-53 in 15 games). He shot 48.9 percent overall, posting a PER of 14.3 (after a PER of 11.0 in the regular season).
So why would anyone be bullish on Pondexter’s chances of supplanting Allen?
For starters, the Grizzlies have a decision to make on Pondexter—he will make $2.2 million this season and the team has until Oct. 31 to offer him a new deal or allow him to enter into restricted free agency next summer.
At 6’6” and 225 pounds, he’s bigger than Allen (6’4”, 213) and was recently ranked No. 5 on Amin Elhassan’s list of the top eight “3-and-D” players in the NBA at ESPN.com.
According to Elhassan:
“The lowest-profile name on the list, Pondexter still operates in the shadows behind his more famous defensive teammate, Tony Allen. However, make no mistake: Pondexter is fast becoming one of the elite defenders on the wing and his developing 3-point shot threatens to make Allen expendable. Like (Kawhi) Leonard, Pondexter was more of an offense-focused player in college whose range did not extend well, but has made the transition to a role player in the league. He’s a tenacious defender with the size and strength to guard a wide variety of wings. Offensively, he’s most effective from behind the arc from the corners, shooting 46 percent (41-of-90).”
Pondexter said during training camp in 2012 that he could be a Battier-like player for the Grizzlies, so ranking ahead of the savvy veteran with the two shiny new championship rings on the above list is a positive step in that direction.
Allen is also on an affordable deal and could still play a valuable role for the Grizzlies both as a wing defender and veteran leader. But it also wouldn’t be a shock if gradually, the roles of Allen and Pondexter begin to juxtapose.