After two frustrating Western Conference Finals losses – albeit frustrating for different reasons – there has been a lot of chatter about whether it is time for Coach Hollins to remove Tayshaun Prince from the starting lineup in favor of reserve swingman Quincy Pondexter. While it is unlikely that Hollins will make such a change – he is notoriously stubborn when it comes to adjusting his rotations – it is an interesting question. We have asked two members of the 3SOB team to make the case for and against the change. Here is what Joshua Red Coleman and Jonathan Louis May have to say about it:
THE CASE FOR CHANGE (Coleman):
There are many reasons that one could use to make the case for why Quincy Pondexter should replace Tayshaun Prince in the starting lineup. Statistical is the easy one:
8 points on 3/10 FGs and 2/4 FTs. 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal. That’s what Tayshaun Prince has given the Grizzlies in 45 minutes of play so far in the Western Conference Finals.
24 points on 9/17 FGs and 6/13 3PTs. 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal. That’s what Quincy Pondexter has given the Grizzlies in 66 minutes of play against the San Antonio Spurs.
Oh, and he did this:
You don’t have to have a degree in advanced mathematics to see which player has been more productive. Of course, Prince’s reputation is that of a defender, so that must be taken into account. However, even the most ardent supporter of Tay’s would be forced to admit that his defense has been lacking in this series. In short, Q-Pon has outplayed him in every facet of the game.
The Grizzlies starting lineup needs another shooter on the floor to help open up the spacing required for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol to play their brand of high-low post offense. Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless have been those players thus far, while Prince has not even attempted a 3-pointer. Bayless is too small to be a starting SG against the Spurs’ bigger wing players, so it falls to Quincy to be the SG/SF to replace Prince and guard Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard, as well as making them work on defense. If you’re going to make a change, then this is the obvious one. (Another possibility is Pondexter replacing Tony Allen in the starting lineup so that he can match up with Manu Ginobili off of the bench — but that move seems even less likely.)
The other issue is that Prince is clearly not 100%. Whether it is his hip problem or another ailment, he is not moving like he did earlier in the season. His limitations are a serious detriment to his mobility and his ability to be effective on the court.
I understand the logic that Prince has the championship pedigree to be a steadying influence on the team. That’s a great thing to have — when he’s holding his own on the floor. Otherwise, I’ll let him be that guy on the bench and in the locker room, and allow the player who is taking (and hitting) shots, as well as playing better defense, to take the floor for the majority of minutes. I don’t see this potential move as a drastic, reactionary disruption so much as a smart and necessary adjustment.
THE CASE FOR THE STATUS QUO (May):
Let me say first that I understand all of the reasons that people want to see this change. Prince has been terrible offensively outside a handful of games against the Clippers. For most of the post-season, however, Prince has justified his presence on the court with solid (sometimes spectacular) defense. Through the first two games of the WCF, even Prince’s defense has been lackluster. It is also easy to argue that adding a shooter like Quincy to the starting lineup will help open up the inside for ZBo and Marc. Spacing is important and there is no question that the Grizzlies starting unit could use some outside shooting.
There are two reasons I think you have to stick with Prince in the starting lineup. First, this is not the time to disrupt the rhythm of the team. Secondly, Prince is capable of providing the spacing we need.
Prince has been a starter his entire career. He is one of the few Grizzlies with conference finals (and NBA finals) experience and is arguably the most playoff battle-tested player on the roster. Making such a dramatic change at this point in the playoffs and series sends the wrong message to Prince, the rest of the Grizzlies players, the Spurs and the fans. One of the strongest attributes of this Grizzlies team is that they have been largely unflappable. No matter how large the deficit, no matter how slim the odds, this team continues to go out on the court and play “Grizzlies Basketball” instead of panicking or worse, quitting. That attitude starts at the top with Coach Hollins, who implores the team to remain true to their identity regardless of the score or circumstance.
Making a change in the starting lineup after two losses in San Antonio would essentially be a concession that the Grizzlies are outmatched and cannot beat the Spurs playing their style of basketball. Beyond that, there is a legitimate domino effect that is likely to cause more harm than good. If you take Quincy off the second unit and replace him with Prince (who is likely to be even less confident following the switch) you change the dynamic of the unit and take away one of the two most reliable scorers, leaving Jerryd Bayless to carry the load off the bench. While I am certain that Bayless would be happy to take 5-7 more shots per game, I’m not as certain that the team would be better for it.
Perhaps more importantly, Prince is capable of picking up his productivity with the starting unit. The most frustrating thing about watching Prince this post-season is seeing him turn down multiple open looks each game. Instead of catching and shooting in rhythm, Prince has opted for the Sam Young Memorial pump-fake followed by a half-hearted drive into the defense. This has resulted in more difficult shots or passes that put teammates in late shot clock situations. It may sound counter-intuitive, but what the Grizzlies need most is for Prince to pull the trigger when he catches the ball with space to shoot. Taking those shots will not only bolster his confidence, but also spread the defense to allow for offensive rebounds. In the series against the Clippers, Prince came out in Game 4 looking to shoot the ball. The result? 7-12 shooting and 15 points. He followed it up in Game 5 with 15 points on 6-10 shooting. It is no coincidence that our offense was better during the stretches where Prince was assertive.
The solution here is simple. First, Coach has to implore Prince to be assertive. He needs to take the open shot and if he is going to drive, he needs to drive with purpose and finish at the rim instead of pulling up for contested 14-footers. Second, if Prince is not effective, give him the quick hook and put in Quincy. You can essentially achieve the goal of moving QP to the starting lineup without actually making the dramatic – and perhaps desperate? – decision to move Prince to the bench. Those who have followed the Grizzlies long enough will remember that this is how Hollins handled things when the world was screaming for Sam Young to be pulled from the starting lineup in favor of O.J. Mayo against Oklahoma City in 2011. O.J. did eventually move to the starting lineup for Game 6 and 7, but Young started the first five games while O.J. played the lion’s share of the minutes. The difference between 2011 and 2013 is that Prince is a proven playoff commodity with a championship ring. The only thing he has in common with Sam Young is that pump fake.
Coach Hollins says he likes to manage the game by feel and this is a good opportunity for him to do so. I expect Prince remains in the lineup and within the first six minutes of Game 3 he will have shown Hollins enough to determine how time will be split between he and Pondexter going forward.
There you have it – the argument for and against pulling Prince from the starting lineup in favor of Pondexter. Let us hear from you: do you want to see the change before Game 3?