Quincy Pondexter quickly became a fan favorite for Grizzlies fans last year in his second season with the team. Like any truly lovable fan favorite, Pondexter (or Q-Pon, as Grizzlies fans have taken to calling him) has found a way to earn the affection of fans. He’s made a Twitter account for his dog, @bucketsQP20, and also landed a date with Chandler Lawson, last year’s Miss Tennessee, through Twitter.
What about on the court? His 21.1 minutes per game was modest, and he spent a large portion of the season playing behind Rudy Gay and/or injured. However, he hit 1.7 threes per 36 minutes at a 39.5% mark and played solid defense, earning himself a spot on Zach Lowe’s much vaunted list of “New Age Shane Battiers” (essentially, “3-and-D” players).
Pondexter exploded in the playoffs, particularly in the third round where three made triples per game on 48.0% shooting from behind the arc. He was arguably the Grizzlies’ best or second best player in that series, and the only consistent threat for them from downtown.
Looking forward to next season, could seeing Q-Pon in a larger role benefit the Grizzlies? More specifically, the Grizzlies should give consideration to using him to replace incumbent starting small forward, Tayshaun Prince. As a matter of fact, throw the doubt out of the window. The Grizzlies need to be starting Q-Pon next season.
Where does the appeal in starting Pondexter start? Well, first of all, it comes from the Grizzlies’ desperate need for three-point shooting. They re-signed shooting guard Tony Allen, the defensive life force of the team who is notorious for his lack of shooting ability. Big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have excellent range for big men, but their effectiveness is from working in tandem from mid-range and in. Mike Conley can hit threes at a reasonable rate (1.3 per game on 36.2% shooting), but as the point guard, he can’t be the guy who positions himself in the corner strictly to spread the defense.
Unfortunately, last year’s starting small forward, Tayshaun Prince, wasn’t the three-point shooter that the Grizzlies needed. While he’s had consistent range to some degree throughout his prime years, he just wasn’t the difference maker the Grizzlies needed from beyond the arc out of their small forward position and he made just 0.4 threes per game on 36.6% shooting for them.
Because of how often the Grizzlies go to their big men, Randolph and Gasol, in the paint, they need shooters to space the floor. Otherwise, the defense is free to crowd the paint with bodies and prevent Randolph and Gasol from playing their game, which in turns throws the entire Grizzlies offense off. This was exactly what the San Antonio Spurs did in the Western Conference Finals en route to a sweep of the Grizzlies which saw Pondexter as the only Grizzlies player to average more than one made three-pointer a game.
That’s the situation the Grizzlies need to avoid, and given more minutes, Pondexter can be the solution to that problem on a nightly basis. He’s strictly a three-point specialist offensively, and the type of guy you stick in the corner for entire offensive possessions. That makes him the perfect role player to match with Conley, Allen, Randolph and Gasol in the starting lineup.
Already, Pondexter is likely a better player than Prince. Last season, Q-Pon had a 0.125 win share rating per 48 minutes (0.100 is considered the league average), compared to Prince’s 0.075 mark. Moving Prince to the bench would only really cost the Grizzlies height (Prince is 6’9″, compared to Pondexter who’s slightly undersized for the small forward position at 6’6″). Combine that with the fact that Pondexter’s nearing his prime at 25 years old whereas Prince, now 33, long left his behind, and you have a situation where switching the roles of the two would be completely in the best interests of the team.
Certainly, the Grizzlies were 27-10 (0.730) after the Prince trade compared to 29-16 (0.644) before, and one could say that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. That said, however, the San Antonio Spurs were still available to exploit Prince’s shortcomings as a shooter in the playoffs, and I can’t imagine there’s any desire for that to be repeated. It really is difficult to imagine that the Grizzlies wouldn’t execute better with Q-Pon than with Prince. The drastic improvement in record after the Rudy Gay trade might simply have been in offloading Gay, who was notorious for his low efficiency as a high-volume outside shooter.
The only legitimate concern might be that with Prince on the bench, the Grizzlies wouldn’t have much three-point shooting on their bench. As of now, the Grizzlies have yet to sign a three-point shooter in free agency, and the remaining options are generally subpar NBA players overall
For now, the Grizzlies’ three-point threats off of the bench are streaky gunner Jerryd Bayless (0.9 threes on 35.3% shooting last season) and Prince, if you can even remotely consider him one. To put it bluntly, that’s pretty bad for a team with title aspirations. However, getting the starting lineup, the core group that starts and typically finishes games, to peak form is what matters most right now. That would be done with Q-Pon in the starting lineup.
The Grizzlies don’t have much else in terms of options. Beyond signing a shooter in free agency, they could attempt to shop Tayshaun Prince (which would be difficult, given the $14.9 million over two years left on his contract) or, if they’re gun-to-their-head desperate, Ed Davis. Unfortunately, that’s how it will be for a team that elected not to pursue free agents like Kyle Korver, Dorell Wright and Mike Dunleavy seriously.
The way things stand now, there’s really no question about it: Quincy Pondexter needs to be the starter at small forward next season. This is change that must happen for the Grizzlies to continue to advance as a team in the Western Conference, and this is change that will new head coach Dave Joerger will be responsible for bringing about.
If all goes well, Miss Tennessee Chandler Lawson will be cheering from the sidelines and Buckets Pondexter will be tweeting continued support for him as Grizzlies fans cheer for their new starting small forward: Quincy “Q-Pon” Pondexter.