Because his defense is as important as the scoring provided by players like Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, Allen is the Grizzlies' X-factor.
Allen plays defense just about as well as anyone. He averaged 1.8 steals per game. Also, he averaged 4.2 steals per 48 minutes, the most by any player with at least 1.5 steals per game since 1995.
For his tenacious defense, as well as his ability to lead the Grizzlies' defensive efforts, he earned a place on the All-NBA Defensive Second Team.
Allen was a key reason why the Grizzlies were one of the better teams defensively last season, placing 13th in points allowed per game and leading the NBA in steals (771) and turnovers forced (1,367).
Defense Tells Much of the Story for Allen
Allen is a defensive specialist. In a rotation that includes five players who averaged 11 points or more per game last season, Allen is the guy who hangs back. While he did shoot 51 percent from the field, that isn't the important part of his game.
Allen thrives on defense. He's terrific defending on the ball. Steals only tell part of the story. Allen wards off entry-lane passes and cuts off passing lanes.
Is Tony Allen one of the top five defensive players in the NBA?
Lionel Hollins praised Allen for his defense, telling the Wall Street Journal, "Our defensive energy is the cornerstone of what we do—getting steals, forcing turnovers, forcing deflections. And Tony attached himself to the concept in training camp like it was normal, like it was expected."
Hollins pointed out one of the things that Allen does that doesn't show up in the stat sheet defensive energy. Allen gets in players' faces, creating pressure. He cuts down on opportunities for opposing guards.
Further, his defensive energy cuts towards the team identity of the Grizzlies, which is defensive toughness. Forcing turnovers is one thing. Another thing is being tough, honest and willing on defense. Allen is committed to doing all of the things that a good defensive player does.
One can tell how his defensive energy rubbed off on other Grizzlies players. Four Grizzlies players averaged at least a steal per game. Everyone in the rotation had an above average defensive rating.
Conclusion: Allen Is a Defensive Leader
Allen is the guy who leads the Grizzlies defensively. He gives pointers to younger players. Even more, he schools the front office on defensive values.
Hardly anyone is that ambitious about defense in a league that gives incentive for high scoring.
If the Grizzlies are to make a deep run in the playoffs this season, it will be largely due to tough defense. The Grizzlies will need Allen to provide the defensive intensity that is the hallmark of his game. If his defense is lacking, the Grizzlies will struggle.