Solomon Hill ranked second on the New Orleans Pelicans last year with 2,374 minutes played. He was tasked as the defensive stopper, drawing the opposition’s most threatening wing scorer. He performed as well as can be reasonably expected in this role. Superstars are going to score points, but wings like Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard scored fewer points less efficiently against the Pelicans than their season-long averages. New Orleans still lost those games, but Hill did his job on defense and defense is why Dell Demps chased him.
Tony Allen is a better defender.
Six selections to the All-Defensive team over the last seven years is a testament to Allen’s reputation. With Hill out for much of the year due to a hamstring tear, a massive hole on the defensive end was opened on the wing. Allen, more so than any realistic option this summer, is the most capable candidate to fill Hill’s shoes. Allen is shorter and older, but if you’ve watched enough footage of him, you know that’s not going to matter. If anything, Tony Allen will make the Pelicans better.
Chris Finch was brought in to fix an offense that has not worked since Alvin Gentry arrived in the Crescent City. Over the last two seasons, the Pelicans have finished 16th and 26th in offensive rating. Meanwhile, Finch’s offense with the Denver Nuggets was a revelation during the last campaign, ranking 5th on the season overall and 2nd after New Year’s trailing only the Golden State Warriors. Much adulation is focused on rising star Nikola Jokic. But one area both Finch and Tony Allen should mesh is where the Nuggets excelled, creating points off cuts.
The Nuggets ranked 3rd in the league in both efficiency and frequency in cuts according to SportVU. New Orleans was 25th. Solomon Hill had just 31 cut possessions tracked last season, spending much of his time on offense standing in the corner. Tony Allen ranked 13th in the league with 169 such possessions, trailing just Giannis Antetokounmpo among guards and wings.
Solomon Hill is a better long range threat than Tony Allen. However, the margin between the two may be small enough that the defense’s reaction would show negligible difference. While it’s reasonable to expect that HIll would have been asked to cut more often with Chris Finch running the offense, it’s also reasonable to question if he would have been effective doing so considering his NBA career as largely a spot up player. Allen, with years of experience working around his weaknesses on offense, will have far less to adjust in fitting with Finch’s scheme.
It’s unlikely the Pelicans ask Allen to soak up all of the minutes Hill would have logged this season, but in the stretches that he does fill-in for Hill, expect Allen to be comfortable in a role which he’s well suited. Tony Allen has the defensive reputation and capacity to function as a stopper. It is a role he has relished for years. His limitations on offense are well worn ground, but the combination of Allen’s penchant for moving off the ball and Finch’s offensive design should mitigate those concerns to a degree.
Tony Allen isn’t perfect.
He’s 36 years old and a deep decline could arrive at any moment. Considering the solutions available on the free agent market, I am doubtful there was a better fit. Yes, Solomon Hill was a better and more willing shooter. No, I don’t think the opposition cares. Hill was dead last in the NBA in PER (8.0) among players with 1900 or more minutes. Allen managed a 13.3 PER in 1914 minutes, near league average. What New Orleans lost in efficiency they have gained in overall production (Allen averaged more points, rebounds, and steals while playing fewer minutes at a slower pace), reputation (it matters, especially on defense), and leadership.
In the coming days, hopefully Dell Demps can add Dante Cunningham into the mix as well. A wing rotation of Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Tony Allen, Dante Cunningham, Jordan Crawford, and Darius Miller is not awful at all considering when Solomon Hill was injured and the salary cap limitations (of his own making) on Dell Demps. The first four can all defend well and Allen is the only non-shooter of the group.
Shooting and spacing was always going to be a problem. Knockdown shooting is heavily valued in today’s NBA. Rather than settle on mediocre shooting with similar (or worse) defense, the Pelicans signed Tony Allen, until proven otherwise, an elite defender and a willing cutter off the ball. Perfect options were unavailable — at least this one has the potential to fit.