The more that Tony Allen comes off the bench, the more it becomes clear that sixth-man was a role he was born to play. You want your sixth-man to bring tons of energy, play good defense and create chaos on the court. If you were listing what Allen does well on a basketball court, those would be the only three attributes you would come up with. Sure, he can’t shoot and is very loose with his dribble, but none of that matters when he’s flying all over the place, batting passes, getting offensive rebounds and slaloming his way into contact and free-throw attempts.
On Wednesday night, the Memphis Grizzlies were in another back-to-back game rut, and once again it was against the New Orleans Pelicans. Before this matchup the Grizzlies were 0-3 against the Pelicans. The only difference on this night was that Memphis had finally played their way into a playoffs spot, and dropping a game to the 26-37 Pelicans could not happen again. The Grizzlies got off to a slow start — which has become the norm for this team — and found themselves in a nine-point hole at the half and a seven-point hole at the end of three quarters. They came back to win 90-88. The final period can only be described as chaos, and Allen was at the center of it all.
This isn’t the first — and probably won’t be the last — time that Memphis was lifted by the energy of their chaotic sixth-man. The Grizzlies lead the NBA in net rating from bench players since Allen’s return 11 games ago at plus-13.2 per-100 possessions. The next closest bench to them is the Phoenix Suns at plus-7.5 per-100 possessions.
Not only is the Memphis bench playing so well, but Allen is having one his best season’s of his career. In the 11 games off the bench, Allen is averaging 10.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game in less than 23 minutes of playing time; he is also shooting 62.7 percent from the field. Allen also has an individual net rating of 14.2 per-100 possessions since his return. To put that into perspective, Andre Iguodala leads the league at 13.4 and Chris Paul is second at 10.8.
I know this is a small sample-size for Allen, but the sixth-man role was made for him. He was a bench player when the Boston Celtics won the NBA Championship in 2007-08 and again when they lost in the NBA Finals in 2009-10. Going backwards as far as role is concerned must be hard for him, but it is a role he thrives in. And if the Grizzlies make the playoffs, his move to the bench will be a big reason why.