Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mid-Season Player Notes: Tony Allen

Posted By on Tue, Feb 28, 2012 at 3:50 PM

Tony Allen has been back on his grind for the Grizzlies this season.
  • LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Tony Allen has been back on his grind for the Grizzlies this season.
Grizzlies fans should be pleased with what they've gotten from Tony Allen so far this season. His breakout season a year ago, at age 29, had all the makings of a classic “fluke rule” season, with regression to the mean likely. But the now-iconic Allen has retained most of what made him an impact player in his first season with the team.

Now established in the starting line-up after a yo-yo of an inaugural Grizzlies campaign, Allen's minutes have boosted from 20.8 a game last season to 26.3 this season and he's again been one of the league's very best perimeter defenders.

After putting up a historic steal rate — 4.14 per 48 minutes — last season, Allen's come back to earth a little, but his 3.47 per 48 is still best in the NBA among players averaging at least 15 minutes a game. And, again, Allen is the catalyst of a team defense that leads the NBA in both steals and opponent turnovers, with the starting perimeter trio of Allen (sixth), Mike Conley (first), and Rudy Gay (11th) all among the Top 11 in steals per game. Additionally, Allen is fifth among scoring guards in blocks per game, continues to mix shutdown one-on-one defense (memorably “turning the water off” on Houston's Kevin Martin at FedExForum) with sixth-sense team defense (where he sometimes seems to be guarding no one in particular but is, in fact, guarding the entire other team).

Together, Marc Gasol and Allen have been the inside/outside anchors for a near-elite defense, one whose 10th overall ranking in defensive efficiency might might sell them short given that the team's first-half schedule was heavy with games against elite offenses — 13 of 34 games against teams in the Top 7 in offensive efficiency. (The Griz will play current Top 7 offenses eight times in their remaining 32 games.)

On the offensive end, there's been a little more slippage, as Allen doesn't seem to be playing within his limits quite as much as last season. While his offensive rebound rate is up, his assist ratio is down significantly and his turnover ratio is back up — while still lower than his bad turnover rates in Boston, it's not at the level of his career-best performance last season.

And this assist/turnover split this season seems to be a function of over-aggressiveness. Observationally, Allen seems to be trying to create off the dribble more this season, particularly on long offensive rebounds or on the secondary break, situations where — given his ball-handling limitations — kicking the ball back to the point guard and allowing the offense to re-set are probably safer bets.

Similarly, Allen seems to be a little too willing to pull the trigger on mid-range jumpers this season, particularly early in the shot clock. Last season, 16% of Allen's field-goal attempts came from mid-range, where he connected on 30%. This season, Allen's mid-range attempts are up to 22% of his total, which is success rate down to 27%.

Allen has hit a few corner threes this season, hitting on 4 of 7 attempts after shooting 3-13 from the corners last season. If he were to add a legitimate corner three, it would be a significant weapon for Allen. But given the small sample size and his struggles on other types of jumpers, you have to assume for now that this performance is a fluke.

Yet, despite these offensive flaws — which make for some of the most frustrating moments at Grizzlies games this season — the team has been better with Allen on the floor both offensively and defensively.

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