What type of impact will Tony Allen have in New Orleans this season?

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Updated: September 20, 2017
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Signing Tony Allen won’t ease up speculation of Anthony Davis possibly leaving New Orleans in the future, or put the final touch on a roster that has a plethora of holes to fill. But his intangibles and defensive prowess should help the Pelicans this season.

“I was pretty skeptical at first because they keep failing to space the floor around the bigs, but I think they’re just leaning into a defense-first theme. Jrue/Rondo/Allen could be an intriguing, switch-heavy set of perimeter defenders who could alleviate some pressure on Boogie/AD to just take over on offense,” Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal told me.

Since the beginning of Allen’s career, producing on offense hasn’t been one of his biggest strengths. And the Pelicans are desperate for perimeter shooting. They need outside scoring that would force opponents to cover the entire floor, instead of focusing primarily on Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

It’s nice to have big men who’ve made strides at passing out of double teams since entering the league. Cousins, in particular, has the court vision and playmaking ability to have a similar role to that of Marc Gasol for the Memphis Grizzlies. But how valuable is that without reliable shooters?

Last season, the Pelicans finished 19th in 3-point percentage (35 percent). They were mediocre in 3-point makes per game (9.4, tied for 14th) and attempts (26.8, 13th). Allen won’t help there. He shot 27.8 percent from 3-point range for the Grizzlies last season and hasn’t shot better than 28 percent for his career.

With Solomon Hill unavailable for six-to-eight months, a potential starting five of Rajon Rondo (30.4 percent career 3-point shooter), Jrue Holiday (36.6 percent), Allen, Davis (29 percent) and Cousins (33 percent) could be the worst 3-point shooting lineup in the NBA. In the midst of a gunslinging Western Conference (where you need shooting), it’s hard to imagine Allen doing much to move the needle.

But on defense, things get exciting.

Giving Hill a four-year, $48 million deal was ridiculous to some people, and many still believe so. But that’s because they didn’t watch enough games to see his true impact. Opponents shot 43 percent from the field against Solomon, and only 32 percent from deep. He did that on a nightly basis against guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard.

Allen is just a better defensive player.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the Grindfather is one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA. His quick hands, active feet and sheer guile make up for his size and length. Being one of the league’s toughest and most aggressive players have kept him valuable despite his limitations on offense.

Age doesn’t matter, either. At 35, he averaged a career-high 27 minutes per game last season, when he was named to an All-Defensive team for the sixth time in seven years and finished in the top five in steal rate. Opponents shot 0.7 percent worse than their normal averages when Allen guarded them this past season.

He’ll make the Pelicans a team to be reckoned with on the defensive end of the floor. He’ll be able to defend bigger wing players, unlike E’Twaun Moore or Holiday, both of whom don’t have the strength to assume that role. Last season, the Pelicans constructed a top-10 defense with Buddy Hield, Dante Cunningham and Tim Frazier on the roster for 35-plus games.

The best defender at the point guard position was Holiday. But even with his presence, and Davis protecting the rim, that couldn’t hide all the mistakes from three of the worst defenders to start in the NBA last season.

Partnering this new talent with Darren Erman, the best defensive coach in the league, it’s possible to watch the Pelicans thrive into a top-three defense this season. It could be Davis’ first real opportunity to win Defensive Player of the Year. If the Pelicans rank high defensively and wind up in the playoffs, expect the narrative to shift his way.

It remains to be seen if Rondo can help the league’s two best big men form into a potent offense, moreover if the lack of shooting makes them waver. But a dominant defense can carry a team to the postseason despite a struggling offense.

Signing Allen won’t save them from being a bottom of the shelf shooting team, but it’ll at least make them capable of holding opponents to 80 points per night.

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