Shane Battier vs. Tony Allen: Who will guard Manu better?
Although Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have received the bulk of the attention in the wake of the Memphis Grizzlies Game 1 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, in Game 2 I am most excited to watch Tony Allen and Shane Battier.
Let me rephrase that: I am most excited to see how Tony Allen and Shane Battier guard Manu Ginobili.
Ginobili is one of the more crafty offensive players in the league. His erratic, contorted, collision-prone style, when combined with his willingness to use every trick in the book to put points on the board, makes him an immensely difficult player to defend. However, Allen and Battier both relish the opportunity to defend the league’s best players, even though they take dramatically different approaches. As Allen and Battier switch on and off Manu over the course of the game, it’ll be interesting to watch how Manu reacts to their differing defensive styles.
To put it simply, Tony Allen is a physical defender. He crowds. He bodies. He bangs. And he’s willing to do all of that on areas of the floor where most defenders are happy to let you dribble and collect your thoughts.
That’s why it comes as no surprise that Manu Ginobili passes the ball more often and takes more trips to the free throw line when playing against Tony Allen than he normally does. (Although, to be fair, he does both of those more often when playing against the Grizzlies, not just when guarded by Tony Allen.) As we saw in Game 1, if the referees are in the mood to call a game tight, Allen is susceptible to picking up a few quick fouls. And no one on the Spurs does a better job of getting players out of position and initiating contact than Manu Ginobili.
I’m also not surprised to see that Ginobili takes fewer field goal attempts and 3-point attempts when Allen is on the floor: Allen’s pit bull approach is as well suited to denying Manu his step-back jumper as any defensive style in the league.
Although also regarded as a great defender, Shane Battier could not approach the task of stopping a dynamic offensive threat like Ginobili more differently. As Michael Lewis demonstrated beautifully in his much discussed New York Times Magazine piece, “The No-Stats All-Star,” Battier plays the percentages. He does little things that encourage you to pull-up at just the wrong time, or switch to your weaker hand. Every player has spots they prefer, and Battier’s tiny, malevolent hints are trying to guide you away from those spots.
Lewis also revealed that, in the past, Battier has been explicit about his eagerness to cover Ginobili:
Last season when the Rockets played the San Antonio Spurs Battier was assigned to guard their most dangerous scorer, Manu Ginobili. Ginobili comes off the bench, however, and his minutes are not in sync with the minutes of a starter like Battier. Battier privately went to Coach Rick Adelman and told him to bench him and bring him in when Ginobili entered the game. “No one in the N.B.A. does that,” Morey says. “No one says put me on the bench so I can guard their best scorer all the time.”
But that request was made by a younger, quicker Battier, who had an easier time staying in front of players who are hell-bent on getting to the rim.
So how has Battier done against el contusion? Again, the statistics and our observations are aligned. Ginobili tends to take more 3-point attempts when Battier is on the court, but his percentage from outside is down. Battier does an excellent job of guiding players to the areas of the arc where they are least effective and, when they go into their shooting motion, he eschews the chance at the block in order to disrupt their vision. It’s a brilliantly subtle way of bring down a player like Ginobili’s percentages ever so slightly.
However, when Battier is on the floor, Ginobili scores at a much higher rate at the rim and in mid-range. In both instances, Ginobili is attacking off the dribble, and whether he’s continuing on into the painted area or sliding back into a 15-footer, the statistics suggest he’s capable of creating the necessary space between himself and Battier to get the look he wants.
It’ll be exciting to watch Ginobili work his way through their differing styles this evening.