Who Will Be the Memphis Grizzlies' Playoff X-Factor?

Tom FirmeAnalyst IIApril 19, 2014

MEMPHIS, TN - APRIL 16: Monta Ellis #11 of the Dallas Mavericks handles the ball against Tony Allen #9 of the Memphis Grizzlies on April 16, 2014 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Tony Allen must quit his fits in order that the Memphis Grizzlies have a deep playoff run. Allen's defense is essential to their playoff success. If the Grizzlies' defensive leader loses focus or can't contain star scorers, the Grizzlies would be at risk.



Allen is the embodiment of the Grizzlies' "grit 'n' grind" defense. An All-Defensive Team selection the past three years, he keyed their rise as the fiercest team on that end. Last year, they were second in defensive rating while he placed fourth in the category and made first-team All-Defensive team.

He played a major role in the Grizzlies' five-game dispatching of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals last season. Locking down on Kevin Durant, he helped limit the Thunder's leading scorer to 35.8 percent shooting in the last three games of the series.

Durant told The Commercial Appeal's Michael Cohen that Allen is the "toughest guy in the league."

He's been the most consistent defender for the Grizz this season, allowing 101 points per 100 possessions and standing as the only one averaging under 104 all season. While the Grizzlies have generally gone for fewer steals this year, Allen has continued attacking. His 3.8 percent steals rate would have led the league if he had enough minutes.

He's also aggressive on the boards, pulling down 5.9 rebounds per 36 minutes.

Memphis benefits from his presence on the court, allowing 2.2 fewer points per 100 possessions and forcing a 2.1 percent higher opponent turnover rate with him on the floor.

Once again, Memphis plans to use Allen as a weapon defensively. The Commercial Appeal's Ron Tillery tweeted that the 32-year-old will defend either of the Thunder's key scorers at various points.


Emotional engagement

The Grizzlies struggled for a stretch late in the regular season with Allen feeling disengaged on and off the court. Memphis lost four of six games between March 28 and April 6 while allowing 111.1 points per 100 possessions.

The Commercial Appeal (subscription required) noted that Allen was taking poor shots, languishing defensively and creating little noise while on the bench. Eventually, Zach Randolph had a heart-to-heart discussion with him.

Once Allen rediscovered his swagger with a three-steal effort against the Miami Heat on April 9, the Grizzlies won their last five regular-season games.

Still, that streak didn't come without an episode from Allen. He left the court and walked down the tunnel after not getting a foul call in the finale against the Dallas Mavericks. As Tillery tweeted, Dave Joerger had a private talk with Allen the next day.

That Allen is forever in a glass case of emotion is a fact of life. He attacks with abandon defensively, waves a towel and screams on the bench and goads teammates while on the court.

The "Grindfather" should limit his disruptions to a towel landing on the court. Unlike last year, he shouldn't let even that to occur in the critical juncture of a series-clinching game.


Any offense is a plus

The defensive specialist isn't an offensive threat. Allen averages nine points and 7.5 field-goal attempts per game. He scored in double figures in 24 of 55 games.

Having said that, he's less of a liability than in 2012-13. He's shooting 49.4 percent from the field, a 4.9 percent improvement. His 50.7 percent effective field-goal percentage is a six percent jump.

Allen has had fewer poor shooting games. He made less than 40 percent from the field in 12 of 47 games in which he took at least five shots, compared with 33 of 75 last year and 16 of 49 in 2011-12.

His overall efficient shooting in this campaign has been aided by improved finishing inside. As seen in his NBA.com shot chart, he's shooting 63.2 percent at the rim. That's a 6.1 percent improvement over last season. 


He may provide luxurious scoring nights. He averaged 10.3 points per game in the 2013 playoffs. Allen managed to post double digits in four straight games against the Thunder in last year's Western Conference finals.

He'll run out on a fast break when he gets the chance and will drive to the basket if need be.



A couple other players may leverage surprising amounts of weight for the Grizzlies. Mike Miller could swing a couple games with his three-point aim, as he did for the Miami Heat last year. Tayshaun Prince might have an impact defensively on Durant.

But Allen is the crux of the Grizzlies' playoff life. He'll be a critical stopper against imposing scorers. His ability to force turnovers is disruptive. Also, the team in the three shades of blue is counting on him avoiding other types of disruptions.

Statistics are current through the end of the regular season. Unless otherwise noted, advanced metrics come from basketball-reference.com.