Tony Allen: The Best Perimeter Defender In The NBA

The Memphis Grizzlies’ Tony Allen is the best perimeter defender in the NBA. There is a reason that the FedEx Forum has become known as the “Grindhouse” and Tony Allen is the “Grindfather“. Marc Gasol is set to be the franchise’s first All-Star starter, Zach Randolph is a former All-Star and Mike Conley is an All-Star snub, but Tony Allen is the heart and soul of “grit and grind.”

Stopping Stars

Allen has made a name for himself playing the role of defensive stopper to some of the best scorers in the game. Say what you will about Kobe Bryant the last few seasons, but he didn’t get to third on the all-time scoring list for no reason.

Kobe Bryant on Allen’s defense from Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

“He’s fundamentally sound defensively and he plays harder than everybody else defensively,” Bryant said. “He has a competitive desire to compete individually. That’s very uncommon. Most defensive players I face want help all the time. I’ve never heard him ask for help. He likes taking the challenge.”

Kobe is not the only star to be bothered by Allen’s pressure. Allen has often matched up with Kevin Durant in the playoffs. While it takes a team effort to slow Durant down, Allen has been a big part of holding him to 43.8 percent shooting, 4.2 percent below his career mark of 48 percent.

PlayerGWLMPFG%3P%FT%TRBASTSTLBLKTOVPFPTS
Tony Allen1910929.5.444.071.7035.31.21.80.21.63.510.3
Kevin Durant1991044.3.438.333.7829.63.50.91.33.52.228.3
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/6/2015.

Bleacher Report’s Dave Favale has an interesting article asking the question, “Is Tony Allen the Memphis Grizzlies’ Durant Stopper?” That the question can even be asked is a testament to Allen’s defensive prowess.

Jan 24, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Tony Allen (9) guards Philadelphia 76ers guard Michael Carter-Williams (1) during the game at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Stopping Everybody

Allen doesn’t wait until facing off against a star to play hard on the defensive end. He brings his best effort to the court every game. This season, Allen’s opponents are shooting 37.1 percent when Allen is defending the shot, per NBA.com. That is 7.4 percent lower than their normal average field goal percentage.

Last season, Chris Paul, Paul George and Andre Iguodala were All-Defensive First Team. Paul held his opponents 0.4 percent below their average, Iguodala’s opponents shot 0.4 percent better and George forced his opponents into shooting 4.6 percent below their average, according to NBA.com. Allen was left off of the All-Defensive team for only playing 55 games. He took that personally.

From Bleacher Report’s Jared Zwerling:

“I was highly upset I didn’t get put on that first team last year, and it kind of hurt my heart,” said Allen, who’s averaging a career-high two steals per game and holds his opponents to lower percentages all over the court. “I missed a lot of games I guess, but how did I not make it? Unfortunately the media votes on that [since last year] and they snubbed me this time.”

NBA GMs were surveyed before the season started and asked who the best perimeter defenders in the NBA were. Below is the results along with the current difference in their opponents field goal percentage.

1. LeBron James -2.1 percent

2. Kawhi Leonard -0.3 percent

3. Tony Allen -7.4 percent

4.(tied) Jimmy Butler +2.8 percent

 Andre Iguodala -2.4 percent

Chris Paul -2.6 percent

Klay Thompson -5 percent

Allen forces his man into a lower shooting percentage than any of these other top defenders. Allen is also fourth in steals with two per game, trailing league leader Russell Westbrook by just 0.2 steals despite playing 7.9 minutes less per game than anyone else in the top 10, according to NBA.com.

Helping The Team

Allen’s individual defensive brilliance translates to the team level as well. The Grizzlies are eighth in overall defensive rating at 100.5, per NBA.com. With Allen on the court, that number drops to 95.7 points scored per 100 possessions.

That is the fifth-best individual mark in the league among players that have played 40 games or more, only trailing two Golden State Warriors players and two Milwaukee Bucks players—the first-and second-ranked teams in terms of defensive rating—according to NBA.com.

Tony Allen also has the second highest plus/minus of 8.8 and highest net rating at 11.6 on the Grizzlies. It goes without saying that the Memphis Grizzlies are much better with Allen on the court.

Dec 9, 2014; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) celebrates after a play against the Dallas Mavericks at FedExForum. Memphis defeated Dallas 114-105. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

In his last five games, Allen has come off the bench in favor of newly acquired Jeff Green. Instead of brooding about his demotion to the bench and giving less than stellar effort, Allen has locked his man down. His opponents are shooting an abysmal 23.3 percent from the field, per NBA.com. They are making just 1.4 field goals per game while he is defending them.

That is absolutely stifling.

So far Tony Allen has earned a spot on the First Team All-Defensive squad. No perimeter player has had a greater defensive impact on the person he is guarding. For a player only averaging 7.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists, he is having a huge influence on the performance of his team. That is because he is the best perimeter defender in the game.