Take a bow, Tony Allen.
It's not every day that one of the greatest scorers in league history bestows compliments upon your defensive stylings, but that's exactly what Kobe Bryant did in an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina.
Despite engaging in several grueling battles since clashing in the 2008 NBA Finals, Bryant was quick to heap praise on Allen's defensive fortitude, per Medina:
He’s fundamentally sound defensively and he plays harder than everybody else defensively. He has a competitive desire to compete individually. That’s very uncommon. Most defensive players I face want help all the time. I’ve never heard him ask for help. He likes taking the challenge.
But as Allen admitted, guarding Bryant is no easy task. A student of Kobe's game, the Memphis Grizzlies' defensive stalwart has made it his mission to examine the nuances that make the Purple and Gold legend such a consistently difficult defensive assignment:
He earned the right to be who he is. I’m basically trying to hold my case as being one of the best defenders in the game. I’ve been in the league 10 years trying to study (Kobe). But he comes with something new all the time. That’s what makes the competition fun.
A one-on-one nightmare for opposing ball-handlers, Allen has helped the Grizzlies limit opponents to fewer than 98 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com, good for the league's fourth-best mark entering Wednesday night's contest against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Since Allen signed with Memphis in 2010, the Grizzlies haven't recorded a defensive rating worse than No. 9 overall, according to Basketball-Reference.com, while the club topped out at No. 2 overall in efficiency en route to a trip to the Western Conference Finals two seasons ago.
A three-time All-Defensive Team honoree (2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13), Allen's earned plenty of respect from his peers in the past.
But when a scorer and playmaker of Bryant's caliber goes out of his way to applaud your individual efforts, it's clear Allen no longer needs to seek validation as one of the premier defenders in the game today.
Allen's Grizzlies and Bryant's Lakers will square off Wednesday night at 10:30 p.m. ET at Staples Center as Memphis seeks to earn a third straight win while L.A. attempts to snap a two-game losing streak after dropping consecutive contests against the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets.