Last night Tony Allen returned to action for the Memphis Grizzlies after missing 21-straight games with an injured hand. The wait for Memphis fans to see the Grindfather back in action was much anticipated — even more so after trade rumors earlier in the week that had Allen on his way to Minnesota — but there were mixed emotions on Allen’s part because he would return to the lineup as a bench player, as opposed to a starter like he has been for the previous three seasons.
Allen let it be known that he had no problem with coming off the bench and helping his team anyway possible, but you know that it stuck in his craw that he was the one doing the sacrificing. After one game, though, it is clear to see that Allen coming off the bench is the kind of havoc no team wants to see once they are winded.
With having over a month of pent up energy to unleash, Allen came out like gangbusters against the Los Angeles Clippers, and had the second-largest plus/minus of any Grizzlies player last night at +14. When Allen was signed by the Grizzlies in the summer of 2010 he was signed to be the backup to O.J. Mayo, and after 26 games of not playing more than 22 minutes in a game, he played more than 22 minutes in 32 of the teams last 56 games. He ended up starting 31 games that season, and has not relinquished that role since. It seems like he is gunning to get that starting role back.
Even if there is some animosity from Allen coming off of the bench, he has to see the advantage him coming off the bench brings to the Grizzlies. Against the Clippers he and James Johnson, who was the only player that had more impact on the game than Allen with a plus-17, gave the Grizzlies energy and hustle off the bench that no other team in the NBA can match. As much as some want to scoff at the idea of using analytics as a way to gauge a team, there is no denying that the Grizzlies starting lineup with Courtney Lee in place of Allen is better. And after seeing one game with Allen and Johnson playing together off of the bench, it makes even more sense.
Of the lineups when two players spent more than 10 minutes together against the Clippers, the lineups that had both Allen and Johnson were the best for Memphis. The duo of Allen and Johnson had a net rating of 51.2 in 15 minutes together. As a matter of fact, the top six lineups for Memphis had either Allen or Johnson in them with Mike Miller and Kosta Koufus. The “new” bench that Memphis has gives them one of the best bench units in the league, and their “new” starting lineup is the 10th-best in the league as far as net rating.
The argument to what has been seen from Allen as a bench player is that it was only one game. And there is no rebuttal for that; it was only one game. But when you look at the best bench players in the league the number one thing they bring to the table is energy, and that is the best asset of Allen and Johnson. After the game Allen, said his goal was “to get in there and cause havoc,” and that is exactly what he did.
Memphis has struggled for years trying to find a bench unit that could keep a lead that their starters accumulated. It appears that they have now solved that problem, and the answer was to bring one of their starters off the bench.