Why Tayshaun Prince Is the Memphis Grizzlies' Glue Guy

Tom FirmeAnalyst IISeptember 23, 2013

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 01: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat is guarded by Tayshaun Prince #21 of the Memphis Grizzlies at American Airlines Arena on March 1, 2013 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Tayshaun Prince elevates the Memphis Grizzlies on both ends of the floor without doing anything remarkable. Prince posts ordinary numbers, but augments the Grizzlies' figures enough that it almost justifies the $14.94 million he's due for the next two years.

Calling Prince the Grizz glue guy is easy enough on the face of it. His core numbers in 37 games with Memphis—8.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 0.7 steals per game with a 42.9 percent field-goal percentage—won't catch eyes.

His metrics reveal a little more about his reliability. Having his clean nine percent turnover rate with a 15.2 percent usage rate is often credited for the efficiency bump that came with switching Rudy Gay with him in the starting lineup.

But the Prince effect wasn't just felt because he was inserted in the starting lineup.


Always a boost with Prince

The aforementioned Prince-Gay comparison treats Prince as a correcting agent. Another way to look at his impact on the Grizz is approaching him like a mitigating factor to each lineup.

For example, while comparing lineups with Tony Allen to those with Jerryd Bayless, I found that each one did better when Prince was on the floor. The best four-man lineup with Allen but not Prince allowed 89.3 points per 100 possessions, but with both allowed 0.1 fewer.

Four-man lineups with Allen but not Prince scored at best 102.2 points per 100, but the best with both scored 2.3 more. Also, the best four-man set with both had a 60.2 percent assist rate and a 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio, which were 5.6 percent and 0.42 better, respectively, than those with Allen but not Prince.

The best four-man lineup with Bayless scored 115.8 points per 100, but the highest scoring with him and the 33-year-old posted 124.8. Those with and without Prince to go with Bayless were close in terms of assist rate and assist-to-turnover ratio. However, the best shooting quartet with both shot 3.7 percent better than those with Bayless on the floor and Prince off.

The top defensive group with Bayless but not Prince allowed 102.2 points per 100 possessions, but the best with both allowed 101.2.

Seemingly, these two wild, athletic drivers are aided by the presence of a smart passing veteran through whom their tendencies are tempered. Defensively, having Prince and Allen together gives the Grizz a dangerous amount of length to thwart attackers.

Prince's defensive awareness helps ward off those who Bayless may miss.

All of the Grizzlies' best five-man sets that played more than 75 minutes together last season featured this 11-year pro. Those with the best offensive rating, defensive rating, effective field-goal percentage, assist rate and assist-to-turnover ratio had Prince.

The lineup of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Prince, Bayless and Mike Conley Jr. averaged 120.9 points per 100 possessions, 15.4 more than the best without Prince.

Putting Conley, Gasol and Prince on the floor together produced lineups with the three best assist rates and assist-to-turnover ratios. Indeed, this was the result of having the three most aware passers on the floor together.

Apr 9, 2013; Memphis, TN, USA;  Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley (11) and small forward Tayshaun Prince (21) and center Marc Gasol (33) talk during the game against the Charlotte Bobcats at FedEx Forum.  Mandatory Credit: Spruce DerdenUSA TODAY S
Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Describing Prince's effect while in the lineup, The Commercial Appeal's Peter Edmiston said, "In essence, Prince is serving as the offensive equivalent of a solid character actor in a good movie. Doing his job, staying unnoticed, but essential to the overall plot."


Applying Lessons for 2013-14

The advantages of having the former Detroit Piston on court have limits. Having him and Allen on the floor limits Memphis to only three shooters. That makes the offense predictable.

Hence, any thought of giving him more minutes to ameliorate various lineup combinations would be self-defeating.

Giving Bayless and Prince a reasonable amount of time on the floor together will be beneficial, since lineups with the two averaged 114.4 points per 100 possessions and had 53.4 percent effective field-goal clips.

They played 11.4 minutes per game as a pair in 2012-13. A similar amount this year would be nice, even if Prince sees fewer minutes.

One knock against Prince is that his arrival worsened the spacing issue for Memphis. Edmiston referred to Prince as "an offensive albatross" in that sense.

Since Prince is a fundamental player who appears wherever he's called to be, positioning him where he would have an optimal angle from which to pass is ideal. When necessary, his designated shots should be predominantly from outside midrange.

Besides, he shot a subpar 38.9 percent from that area.

The Grizz found Prince past his prime. Individually, he no longer can impact a game with his offense. Defensively, he can still make stops. Regardless, he manages to make his presence felt no matter who accompanies him.


Advanced metrics come from nba.com/stats.