If you watched any of the last season’s Western Conference Finals, then you know that the Memphis Grizzlies have a big problem. The problem isn’t hidden, it’s not hard to figure out, but for some reason, Memphis’ head coach, Dave Joerger, cannot seem to see the plague that the rest of the basketball-watching world can see with their eyes closed. The problem? Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince cannot play basketball together. This is something Joerger should know, considering he was on the bench as an assistant coach for the Grizzlies last season.
There are plenty of positive attributes that Allen and Prince bring to the Grizzlies, but they both have a significant deficiency; neither can shoot, and that causes Memphis’ offense to bog down. Last season, Memphis was swept out of the playoffs because the San Antonio Spurs decided to give Allen and Prince any shot they wanted from 15 feet or more away from the basket. For the majority of wing players in the NBA, a 15-18 foot jumper is no big deal, but to Allen and Prince, that is their Kryptonite.
When Allen and Prince are the ones taking shots for the Grizzlies, their offense goes from average to bottom-of-the-barrel. In the series with the Spurs, Prince averaged 22 minutes per game, and had a plus/minus of minus-37 in the four games; Allen played 26.3 minutes per game against San Antonio, and was a minus-35 for the series. In that same series, the Grizzlies’ backup wing players, Quincy Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless, played more minutes than Allen and Prince. Pondexter and Bayless also had a more positive impact on the game with plus-minus of minus-11 and minus-14 respectively.
Not being able to score from the outside isn’t a new thing for the Grizzlies, but it is an issue that was believed to be solved with the roster additions of Courtney Lee, Mike Miller and James Johnson. Lee is shooting 37.5 percent from three, Miller is hitting 44.5 percent of his three’s, and Johnson is big enough and athletic enough to get to the rim against most wing defenders in the league. The Grizzlies have the solution to their problem sitting on their bench, but Joerger continues to play Allen and Prince together, and continues to make games harder than they need to be, and on some nights, cost the Grizzlies victories.
On Friday night, the Grizzlies lost to the Toronto Raptors 99-86, and Prince led the team in minutes played at 35. Of those 35 minutes that Prince played, he played 10 of them with Allen on the court as well. In those 10 minutes, the Grizzlies were minus-11. Joerger never let Allen play with Lee or Johnson, and Johnson didn’t play at all until the final seconds when the game was already over.
Over the past three weeks, Allen and Johnson have created an on-court bond that has led the the nickname ‘Lords of Basketball Chaos’ by the Grizzlies’ Twitter following. See, even the fans can see what the head coach cannot. When they are on the court, the opposition wilts under the pressure of the two hyper-aggressive, athletic defenders. The only drawback is that Allen and Johnson can get a little too chaotic, and cost the team possessions with turnovers, but the bottom line is normally a positive for the Grizzlies.
If the Grizzlies are to hold onto their slim lead over the Phoenix Suns for the eighth spot in the West, then they need to find a way to never have Allen and Prince on the court together. I’m not sure what Joerger sees in having these two on the court at the same time, but I know what their opponents and every other spectator sees — a lot of missed jumpers.