For the fifth time in the past six seasons, Memphis Grizzlies shooting guard/small forward/pit bull Tony Allen has been named to one of the NBA All-Defensive Teams.
Every season that he has been healthy in a Grizzlies uniform has ended in Allen being named one of the 10 best defenders in the league.
Similar to how it is with All-Star voting, All-NBA nods, and any other postseason accolades, All-Defensive spots can sometimes be earned based on reputation. Once a player has earned the status of All-Star or All-Defense or what have you, it takes usually takes a steep drop off or an overly competitive field to lose that status among voters.
Although Allen’s minutes, games played, and basic numbers were on par with his recent seasons, his advance measures, especially the defensive ones, showed signs of regression.
It is right to be wary of the misuse of advance statistics. They can sometimes be used to form narratives that aren’t there or to boost incorrect statements.
But when examined correctly and taken in context, they can prove things that were difficult to see with the naked eye, usually overlooked, or just straight up ignored.
This season, Allen’s defensive rating, defensive win shares, and defensive box plus/minus all fell below the top 20 spots in the league, categories he regularly was among the league leaders of in years past. However, he still tied for the league lead in steals percentage (at 3.5 with Ricky Rubio), showing that the stats could go both ways in the argument over his candidacy.
Due to the historic injury plague that doomed the Grizzlies season, Allen was forced to pick up a heavier load on offense, a crazy statement considering his almost non-existent offensive prowess. In his defense, he, Matt Barnes, and other players used to playing fourth or fifth fiddle stepped it up on offense better than anyone expected. But I do think that affected Allen’s performance on defense.
He was still capable of shutting down opponents on defense when he really locked in, but those moments happened fewer than they have in seasons past.
I still think he is one of the 10 best defenders in the league when healthy and fully locked into his defensive stalwart role, but I do not believe he was one of the 10 best defenders in the league this season.
This is where the question/discussion/answer gets tricky. The guys who did not make the team that I think were obviously better defenders than Allen this year (Rudy Gobert, Jae Crowder) weren’t guards. And I also believe Allen deserved the spot more than fellow Second Team guard Jimmy Butler.
If I had a vote, Danny Green, Klay Thompson, or even Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would definitely be there over Butler. Would I put all of them over Allen? I’m not sure. Part of me wants to say no, but I feel like that could be the Memphis fandom sneaking into my subconscious.
Allen’s spot on the All-Defensive Second Team is not a controversial selection and will not conjure up the ire NBA analysts/players/fans. I’m glad he made the team, if only because the guy plays harder on a nightly basis than just about anyone not named Westbrook.
When it comes down to choosing between Allen, Thompson, Green, or any of the other guards in contention for those final spots, it really comes down to splitting hairs. Which, for something as tricky to accurately compare as defensive performance, Allen’s spot on the team is an acceptable choice.