The NBA Blogosphere has been of the very vocal opinion that Quincy Pondexter needs to start over Tayshaun Prince next season.
Yet, while Tayshaun Prince is on the floor, the Grizzlies register an offensive efficiency of 106.3 points scored per 100 possessions to a defensive efficiency of 95.5 Points allowed Per 100 possessions. That’s a monster net efficiency of 10.8. Quincy Pondexter scores 103.2 points per 100 to a defensive rating of 101 allowed per 100 for a mediocre net efficiency of 2.2.
It would appear, upon first glance, that Prince is, in fact, better for the team in the starting lineup.
But still, without three point shooting, the Grizzlies continue to have spacing that looks remarkably like this:
And then there’s spacing that looks like this, too; look at how Paul George is listing pretty far off of the weak side corner. That defense is even more exaggerated if it’s Tayshaun in the corner instead:
Tayshaun is not a terrible shooter. He hit a career high in three point shooting last season at 40.4%, with the exception of his rookie season, in which he only played 5 games. The problem is, he only took 1.2 3′s per game for the Grizzlies last season.
Part of the reason he shot so well from deep range is that he stopped taking as many 3′s: Prince’s shot is extremely slow, and is vulnerable to being altered pretty easily. He shoots well when really wide open, but that’s pretty much it.
Point being: he can’t make defenses pay for listing off of him a bit when he stands at the three point line, and so he hurts the Grizzlies’ offense and spacing.
So how do we reconcile the pictures — and knowing that Tayshaun hurts the offense with his spacing and that Pondexter can help the spacing — with the numbers that tell us that Tayshaun is just plain-old “more valuable” given more minutes?
The obvious answer is that something has to be wrong. In truth, Prince isn’t actually more valuable; not to the starting lineup anyway.
A lot of the disparity in Tayshaun and Pondexter’s numbers, firstly, come from context. Per NBA.com, Tayshaun played roughly 29 of his 32 minutes per game in either the starting lineup or in a lineup that was only one player away from being the starting lineup. Pondexter, by contrast, spent the vast majority of his time playing on the wing next to Jerryd Bayless, with some combination of Ed Davis, Darrell Arthur, and Austin Daye making up the front court.
It’s no wonder, then, that the Grizzlies didn’t do as well when Pondexter was on the floor: when he was on the floor, so were the not-so-good players.
Here’s a much more encouraging number for Pondexter’s impact, then: when Pondexter and Gasol were on the court at the same time, the Grizzlies scored a ferocious 107.6 points per 100 possessions, and allowed only 93.3 points per 100 possessions.
There are two important lessons to take from this: first, Pondexter does, in fact, give the offense a significant boost in the starter role. Second, never sleep on Marc Gasol’s impact.
Even if Pondexter’s three point shooting ability does make him more useful for the starting unit than Tayshaun, can Tayshaun still be useful on the bench? We know that Pondexter still has a positive impact on bench units, and we know that Prince is still effective as a starter, to an extent. If Prince might be bad when moved to the bench, then maybe it won’t be worthwhile to switch the two players? After all, the numbers he put up in the starting lineup were pretty good, why jeopardize a good thing?
The best part about the whole “Pondexter to the starting lineup” thing, as far as I can tell, is how blisteringly effective Prince is as a stretch four. Prince gets barely any time at PF because of Randolph. Off of the bench, however, he could get as much time at the PF as the Grizzlies could want.
Lets think about this: the 3 lineups that logged the most minutes that also featured Quincy Pondexter included Ed Davis; in 2 of those 3 lineups, Davis was playing Center (which definitely caught me off guard). If Prince came off of the bench, then, we can expect that Prince would spend a significant amount of those minutes alongside Ed Davis.
Well, it turns out, Prince did spend a relatively decent amount of time alongside Ed Davis. Most of those lineups were Pondexter-Prince-Davis-Gasol, which were ABSURDLY EFFECTIVE in really limited minutes (151 points per 100 possessions to 71 points allowed?!?!) but featured Prince as the traditional SF.
There were a few lineups, though, with Conley-Prince-Davis where Prince played the stretch four. In those lineups, the Grizzlies scored 110 points per 100 possessions and only allowed 88.
The Conley-Pondexter-Gasol combo, which would be the primary starting group, scored 109 points per 100 possessions to 89 allowed.
To summarize, a bit: if Quincy Pondexter is inserted into the starting lineup as the small forward, then the Grizzlies offense is likely to get a pretty awesome kickstart without sacrificing much — if any — defense. All of Pondexter’s lineup data while playing alongside of the other Grizzlies starters is phenomenal.
Even better, though, is that using Tayshaun as a stretch four off the bench to play with Ed Davis at Center promises to be incredible as well. Tayshaun’s numbers as a stretch four, in limited time, promises to make initial bench units even better in stretches than the starting lineup already would be without him.
Then, in traditional sixth man faction, Prince could reappear in his usual role for end of game units, potentially featuring Conley-Pondexter-Prince-Randolph-Gasol, which registered an astounding 113 points per 100 possessions to 95 allowed.
In many ways, as hard as it is to sacrifice his efficiency as a starter, Tayshaun Prince could be the ideal sixth man here. He’s positionally flexible, he’s always good, and most importantly, he’s proven that he can be really good with any squad, bench or otherwise.
Much has been written about Pondexter needing to start, but I’m making the “Pondexter Corollary:” more than QPon needs to start, Tayshaun Prince needs to be the Grizzlies’ sixth man. Now.