Breaking Down the Grizzlies: Shooting Guard
In part 2 of this series 3 Shades of Blue will be looking at the Shooting Guard position. The Point Guard position was covered Monday. Small Forward, Power Forward and Center will be covered the rest of this week.
For most of last season the Grizzlies had local hero Tony Allen and little else at the two guard. Not that there weren’t plenty of people wanting to fill the role. Wayne Ellington was given the first opportunity and outside of a couple of magical games (including a stupendous effort in the upset of the Heat), Ellington failed to impress and eventually was sent packing to Cleveland along with two other players for Jon Leuer. Quincy Pondexter was given the opportunity to help out but tore his MCL and was lost for 23 games and wasn’t fully healthy until the playoffs.
Coach Hollins was forced to move Jerryd Bayless to the backup SG role and found a diamond in the rough with Bayless. While struggling defensively against taller and stronger SGs, Bayless showed the ability to get his shot off and to hit high pressure shots as well. After the Rudy Gay trade Bayless took a big step up averaging 11.4 PPG (37% from the arc), 3.1 APG and 0.8 SPG in just over 25 minutes a night primarily as the backup SG.
Bayless’ scoring was needed at SG because Allen, while a defensive stopper, offered little in the way of a scoring threat. Allen is considered one of, if not the, best perimeter defenders in the league. Named to the first team All-NBA Defensive team for the second consecutive year, Allen has also proven to be among the best rebounding guards in the league averaging 4.6 RPG in the regular season and raising that up to 6.1 RPG in the playoffs.
What Allen lacks is any semblance of an offensive game. Despite leading the Big 8 in scoring as a senior at Oklahoma State, Allen has an ugly jump shot and probably would have led the league in missed lay-ups last season if such a stat was compiled. The joke about Allen has always been he’s a turnover waiting to happen…on both sides of the court!
Allen had a dismal season behind the arc where he hit only 12.5% of his 3 point attempts which allowed teams, especially the Spurs in the playoffs, to all but ignore him when the Grizzlies had the ball. Allen was a crowd favorite however and his defensive excellence allowed the Grizzlies to play him long stretches despite his limitations on offense. Allen finished the season with a 13.26 PER which is below average but acceptable considering the limitations of PER in determining defensive contributions.
The Grizzlies realized after the Spurs series that a gaping hole at the two guard was no way to be a productive offensive unit but also understood that Tony Allen was too talented a defender to let walk. The compromise was to sign Tony but acquire others to help out when Tony’s defense wasn’t required.
Allen’s contract is fair, something rarely heard in professional sports these days. His $20 million over 4 year contract may seem big at the end but for now the team and their fans are happy to know that The Grindfather is going to be staying in Memphis for the next few years. So with Allen on board the team went about finding some size and shooting to help Allen.
First was the return of Jerryd Bayless who opted to stay under contract with the Grizzlies. Second the Grizzlies were able to draft Jamal Franklin, aka the Grindson, to train under Allen while working on his own shooting woes. Finally, former Grizz Mike Miller was signed as a free agent after the Miami Heat used the amnesty clause on him. Combining with swing man Quincy Pondexter, what was once considered to be an area of weakness on the Grizzlies suddenly has depth like never before. The problem is each player brings a strength but also a major weakness to the court.
Allen should continue to be the starter this season but clearly the Grizzlies are making moves for the day when Allen (32 in January) begins to slow down. Allen’s offense isn’t going to improve this late in his career.
Pondexter seems the most likely candidate to replace Allen in the starting role if something should happen. QPon was deadly against the Spurs in the Conference Finals, the only Grizz player who was, and has continued that hot shooting in the pre-season. Pondexter however is not a great ball-handler which could be a problem if teams try to take the ball out of Conley’s hands. Jerryd Bayless is a combo guard who has the ball handling skills to be a great compliment to Conley as was proven last season but at 6-3 his size makes defending SGs problematic. Pondexter has made ball control a focus in the off-season and shown some improvement in this area but only time will tell if it lasts all season.
Mike Miller is older than Allen and has struggled with back issues for years. At best Miller could be seen as a spot starter at this point in his career but even that would be dangerous given his health history. Miller likely will spend the majority of his playing time backing up Prince at SF but he is a capable of ball handler who would struggle defensively at SG but can spread the court better than anyone else on the roster.
Then there is the rookie. If there is one SG on the team who seems to have everything it is Jamal Franklin. The rookie led his team in scoring, assists, steals and rebounds last season. He is considered a natural defender as well hence the nickname “Grindson.” Franklin’s problem is his lack of experience and inconsistent shot. Like most 2nd round draft picks the potential is there but the playing time likely won’t. Franklin may be capable down the road but he will most likely get most of his court time in the D-League this season.
So the Grizzlies enter the season with a plethora of players capable of playing the shooting guard role but all have holes in their game. The Grizzlies should be stronger than last season but still the position won’t be a position of strength for the Grizzlies against most opponents.
What Can Go Right/What Can Go Wrong:
Tony Allen is a shut down defender who shouldn’t lose too much to age just yet. However, he is an offensive liability and not a lot of help when opposing team’s don’t have great perimeter scorers on the court. Allen is also a loose cannon at times on the court preferring to do his own thing rather than following a game plan. This could be very problematic for Dave Joerger. Keeping Allen focused on the team while allowing him to free-lance to create his brand of mayhem is a difficult balancing act.
Bayless is a great streak shooter who is capable of exploding at any time but also capable of long cold stretches. Bayless had problems with Hollins last season which could be explained away as competitive issues but the truth is that there is something about Bayless coaches disprove of. How else can you explain the number of teams he has already played on in his short career?
Then there is the problem of playing time. Allen signed a new contract and will want to earn that money. Bayless’ returning means he will want to see court time as an upcoming free agent. Franklin will want to see the court to show what he has learned so far and there is still Mike Miller and Quincy Pondexter who can play the SG position. How the team balances all these players egos and demands will go a long way in determining how successful Joerger and the Grizzlies are this season.