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Tony Allen is the Best Perimeter Defender Ever … and It’s Not Close

Better than even MJ.



It’s no secret that Tony Allen was an absolute menace as a defender. Everybody from Jamal Crawford to Kobe Bryant has testified that Allen was the nastiest defender they ever had to score on. His six All-Defense awards (three firsts and three seconds) speak to that as well.

But just how good of a perimeter defender was he? Well, according to the esteemed FiveThirtyEight, he was better than MJ and probably the best of the modern era. I recently came across this piece — thanks to an OKC Dave tweet — that has Allen ranked as the No. 1 perimeter defender since the mid-1970s, which would probably mean he’s the best perimeter defender of all time (depending on how you view defense in the 1950s and 1960s).

First, let’s look at the metric used by FiveThirtyEight, because there are innumerable ways to determine stuff like this, but they roll pretty deep when it comes to statistics. The stat they use is called RAPTOR, which is essentially just a measure of how much a player helps his team offensively or defensively when he’s on the floor.

Here’s more on that stat, which is not as simple as this excerpt makes it seem, but this is probably as far as we need to go into it. If you want to read more on the stat, go here.

RAPTOR is a plus-minus statistic that measures the number of points a player contributes to his team’s offense and defense per 100 possessions, relative to a league-average player. For instance, a player with an offensive RAPTOR rating of +2.1 boosts his team’s performance by 2.1 points per 100 offensive possessions while he is on the floor. Likewise, a player with a defensive RAPTOR of +3.4 would improve his team’s defensive performance by 3.4 points per 100 possessions while he’s on the court. [538]

Back to this Tony bit, which is actually an article about how good MJ was as a perimeter defender, in light of the new documentary that just came out over the weekend. Here’s a little on MJ.

But that’s only half of what made Jordan so great. He was also an elite perimeter defender — with a RAPTOR plus/minus of +2.2, which ranks fourth among players that Basketball-Reference lists as guards or “guard-forwards” since 1976-77.

Jordan was also named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Team nine times, winning Defensive Player of the Year in 1988. With MJ joining forces with fellow shutdown defenders Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Ron Harper during the second Bulls three-peat, Chicago led the NBA in defensive efficiency in 1996 and finished no worse than fourth in ’97 or ’98, making that incarnation of the Bulls an even more complete team than the version that went back-to-back-to-back in 1991, ’92 and ’93. [538]

But TA? Well TA was apparently a lot better than MJ was, defensively anyway. FiveThirtyEight says Jordan bettered his teams by 2.2 points defensively per 100 possessions he was on the floor. That’s fourth. Only Alvin Robertson (2.3) and Danny Green (2.3) have higher numbers.

Then there’s Allen, who sports a 2.8 (!!!) number.

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The difference is obviously that TA wasn’t the offensive player a lot of guys on this list (MJ, Manu, Jason Kidd) were. But still, it’s a pretty cool look at just how good he was defensively among some of the all-time great defensive guards.

I thought Allen summed up this up well in a Players’ Tribune piece from a few years ago. Here’s what he said about himself, about the way he viewed himself and his squad.

And then you had me, man. I wasn’t the best player or anything, I wasn’t the All-Star caliber guy. But when I look back on it, I think our teams — they were kind of made in my image: Weren’t the most prolific scoring team. Weren’t shooting anyone’s lights out, or always pushing real fast. But we were louder than you. We were tougher than you. And you better believe that everyone was playing their hearts out on defense. It was like, before you even knew it — we had a real identity. [Players’ Tribune]

He did have a real identity. As maybe the best perimeter defender in the history of organized hoops. First team all defense forever.

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