Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Roster Forecast: Scoring Guard

Posted By on Tue, Sep 27, 2011 at 9:00 AM

I continue this weeklong roster breakdown series with a look at the Grizzlies' most unsettled position.

Tony Allen
Regular Season: 20.8 mpg, 8.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.79 spg, .61 bpg, 1.2 tpg, 18.4 PER, 51fg%, 75ft%, 17 3p% (.3 att)
Playoffs: 26.9 mpg, 8.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.92 spg, .38 bpg, 1.8 tpg, 10.8 PER, 43fg%, 66ft%, 14 3p% (.5 att)
Age: 29
Contract Status: $3.2 million in second year of three-year deal.

Tony Allen had the best year of his career in his seventh season, at age 28. Has he reached a new plateau he can maintain in the remaining two years of his current contract with the Grizzlies or did we just witness a classic fluke season?

Last season, Allen notched a career-high steal rate — in fact, the highest steal rate in the NBA in nearly 20 years. And that's only Exhibit A for Allen's defensive brilliance last season. Fans witnessed Allen's virtuoso balance of aggression and containment, pressuring defenders and going for steals but still recovering to stop drives. They saw Allen routinely defend with such energy and awareness that he seemed to be guarding the entire other team. They saw him have crucial, shutdown defensive possessions on players ranging from the 6'0" Chris Paul to the 6'10" Kevin Durant.

Further, Allen had a catalytic impact on the entire team defense, as the Grizzlies improved from seventh to first in steals per game, from 17th to first in opponent turnovers, and, most impressively, from 23rd to eighth in overall defensive efficiency.

Pair Allen's defensive dynamism with a career-low turnover rate and shooting percentages from the floor and line higher than his career norms, and Allen was an extremely efficient and impactful player.

But Allen came back to earth a bit in the playoffs, offering a reminder of the highs and lows that come with his high-wire game — stretches of game-changing defense and controlled-chaos offensive alternating with periods of damaging offensive errors. His shooting percentages came down, his turnovers crept up, and this year's Allen could easily look as much like the playoff version as the regular-season version.

Allen's style of play and impact on the team last season was very similar to James Posey's in his first year with the Grizzlies. The next year, Posey fell off a cliff. I don't think that will happen with Allen, but the team — and the fans — would be wise to prepare for at least a little regression.


O.J. Mayo
Regular Season: 26.3 mpg, 11.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.03 spg, 1.4 tpg, 12.7 PER, 41fg%, 76ft%, 36 3p% (3.7 att)
Playoffs: 27.8 mpg, 11.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.4 apg, .85 spg, .31 bpg, 1.3 tpg, 12.5 PER, 39fg%, 79ft%, 41 3p% (3.8 att)
Age: 23
Contract Status: $5.6 million on rookie deal. Eligible for an extension.

If it's unrealistic to expect Tony Allen to be quite as good as he was last season, it's even more unrealistic to expect Mayo to be as bad.

Mayo's extraordinary litany of on- and off-court problems is well documented, and they resulted in a severe drop-off in production. His three-point shooting fell off a little (from 38% career mark to 36% last season), but he had bigger problems inside the arc:

Two-Point Shooting Percentages:

08-09: 46%
09-10: 49%
10-11: 43%
Playoffs: 38%

Mayo seemed to play with a little more pep in the playoffs, but in some ways his play there was just a more extreme version of his regular season — he shot well from deep, but struggled even more inside the line. (Although Mayo did showcase some defensive versatility with effective minutes against Russell Westbrook.)

I've long harbored some doubts about Mayo rooted in his mundane size and athleticism. He has to be very sharp to be successful and last year's problems clearly knocked him off his game. But you have to believe that the Mayo we saw in his first two seasons is closer to the real Mayo than last year's disaster. I would look for Mayo to have a strong bounce-back season.

Xavier Henry
Xavier Henry
Regular Season: 13.9 mpg, 4.3 ppg, 1.0 rpg, .5 apg, .3 spg, 7.0 PER, 41fg%, 63ft%, 12 3p% (.4 att)
Age: 20
Contract Status: $2.2 million on rookie contract.

Henry's production was bad on paper — just look at that PER — in the brief stint before going down for the season with a mysterious knee injury, and Henry's terrible three-point shooting was particularly puzzling given his collegiate track record.

But there was something there. Henry's size, defense, and poise were impressive. He enters next season fully healed, according to reports, and is still only 20 years old. The range of possible for Henry is very wide and he still has a chance to emerge as a very important player for the Grizzlies.

Probable Outlook:

I listed Sam Young in the small forward section to balance the two wing posts and because with Allen, Mayo, and Henry to choose from, I can't imagine Young will get the nod here. But you never know.

Hollins seems to prefer both Allen and Mayo as sixth-men types, for perhaps understandable reasons (Allen's erratic play, Mayo's theoretical instant offense). Thus Henry and Young — clearly inferior players — combined for 62 starts last season.

Is it possible Young or Henry start again? Henry has a lot to prove early on and Young got the hook in a post-season that badly exposed his offensive limitations. I think initially the starter here has to be Allen or Mayo. I would start Mayo, but suspect it will be Allen to balance offense/defense in the starting lineup and give the team a scorer off the bench.

The other question, of course, is whether Mayo will be back? I detected a shift in the team's attitude about keeping Mayo after the playoffs and suggested he would not be dealt at the draft. Given what is sure to be an accelerated "off-season," I suspect Mayo will be in a Grizzlies uniform to begin what will likely be his final season with the team.

As crowded and uncertain as the wing rotation is after Rudy Gay, I think the potential is here for Henry to re-emerge as a starter — with Allen off the bench and Mayo on the move — if he proves himself worthy. Given his age, contract, and size, that would be a preferable scenario for the team.

Whatever happens, this position remains the team's most volatile position heading into next season.


Beyond the Arc Top 40 — Scoring Guards:

A year ago, most would have rated Mayo even with the Clippers Eric Gordon and well ahead of the Thunder's James Harden, but both players passed Mayo last season. Even projecting a rebound for Mayo — I have him rated ahead of Allen — a conservative projection still has him 10 spots lower than Gordon and six spots lower than Harden.

1. Dwyane Wade
2. Kobe Bryant
3. Manu Ginobili
4. Kevin Martin
5. Joe Johnson
6. Eric Gordon
7. Monta Ellis
8. Tyreke Evans
9. Ray Allen
10. James Harden
11. Jason Terry
12. Stephen Jackson
13. Jason Richardson
14. Jamal Crawford
15. Wes Matthews
16. O.J. Mayo
17. DeMar DeRozan
18. Tony Allen
19. Marcus Thornton
20. Aaron Afflalo
21. Brandon Roy
22. J.R. Smith
23. Rip Hamilton
24. Vince Carter
25. Nick Young
26. John Salmons
27. Michael Redd
28. Ben Gordon
29. Courtney Lee
30. J.J. Redick
31. Rudy Fernandez
32. Evan Turner
33. Leandro Barbosa
34. Ronnie Brewer
35. Thabo Sefolosha
36. Anthony Morrow
37. Jordan Crawford
38. Gordon Hayward
39. Mike Miller
40. Toney Douglas

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