Was Tony Allen Really Kobe Bryant's Toughest Defender?

Bryant recently called Allen his best defender. Is there statistical merit to the claim?

One of the most fascinating aspects of basketball, to me, is how players of different size, athletic profile, and overall ability can succeed by doing certain things well.

For some players, that's defending -- tenaciously -- superb offensive players.

That's what Tony Allen is now known for.

And he did his job so well that Kobe Bryant, who has been in the NBA since 1996, called Allen his "best defender."

If that's how Kobe feels, then that's how he feels, but is there any statistical merit to the claim?

Bryant's Team Versus Allen's Team

The five-on-five mismash that is basketball can make identifying individual performance difficult. Isolating one-on-one matchups is even tougher.

We have our work cut out for us here, but one place we can start is simply checking out how Bryant fared in his games when Allen was on the opposing team.

In 23 regular games against one another, dating back to 2005, Bryant has averaged 25.7 points on 42.1% from the field and 28.2% from three.

In 10 playoff games, Bryant dropped 26.4 points on 38.7% from the field and 32.8% from beyond the arc.

For some reference, his career average is 25.1 points per game and 44.8% from the field as well as 33% from three-point range.

I think we're reaching if we declare anything from that, especially considering that in 22 of those 33 games, Allen played fewer than 20 minutes -- which limits the possessions he could have defended Bryant.

Yes, Allen has averaged 21.7 minutes per game in his career, so we shouldn't be surprised, but when Bryant is playing for twice as many minutes in their matchups, we can't claim that his results -- good or bad -- are solely because of Allen's defense.

What we really need is to see how Bryant performed when defended individually by Allen.

Bryant Versus Allen

Shooter versus defender data isn't always readily available, but by scouring through some queries from, we can get a talking point, at least.

The data dates back to 2013, which is obviously less than ideal because of Bryant's recent injury history.

Unfortunately, we know that Allen's minutes (again, 21.7 per game in his career) combined with Bryant's injuries and the limited defender information means we have to look at a small sample of information.

Still, we get five games of defender data for Bryant and Allen matchups, yielding 29 shots.

Here's how Bryant fared on those attempts against Allen, as well as his other shots in those games against other Grizzlies players.

Kobe Bryant Defended By Tony Allen   Other Grizzlies
2-Pt Field Goals Made 8 18
2-Pt Field Goal Attempts 19 41
2-Pt Field Goal% 42.11% 43.90%
3-Pt Field Goals Made 3 7
3-Pt Field Goal Attempts 10 18
3-Pt Field Goal% 30.00% 38.89%
Effective Field Goal% 43.10% 48.31%
Average Dribbles 2.10 2.20
Average Touch Time (Seconds) 3.12 3.66
Average Defender Distance (Feet) 3.21 3.24
Average Shot Distance (Feet) 18.90 14.43

Allen forced shots from Bryant to average nearly 19 feet away from the hoop. Other Grizzlies faced shots closer to the rim, but when we're factoring in shots defended by Zach Randolph that's understandable.

Still, shots against Allen came sooner after the first touch but not necessarily with a difference in distance between the defender and Bryant. Then again, 10 of those 41 attempts (24.39%) came from within three feet of the hoop, so defenders are going to be closer than on the perimeter.

Only one of those shots defended by Allen came within three feet.

As a matter of fact, only 3 of the 29 shots (10.34%) against Allen came within 10 feet. 23 of the 41 against other Grizzlies (56.10%) came from 10 feet or closer.

This suggests that the Grizzlies had less success keeping Bryant away from the hoop than Allen had, but it doesn't rule out possessions when he beat Allen and had his shot contested by a teammate.

If we open it up to all defenders not named Tony Allen in the database, we can see some of those similar trends.

Kobe Bryant Defended By Tony Allen Others in Database
2-Pt Field Goals Made 8 423
2-Pt Field Goal Attempts 19 917
2-Pt Field Goal% 42.11% 46.13%
3-Pt Field Goals Made 3 177
3-Pt Field Goal Attempts 10 434
3-Pt Field Goal% 30.00% 40.78%
Effective Field Goal% 43.10% 50.96%
Average Dribbles 2.10 3.08
Average Touch Time (Seconds) 3.12 4.31
Average Defender Distance (Feet) 3.21 3.48
Average Shot Distance (Feet) 18.90 17.31

The difference in Effective Field Goal Percentage is, again, pretty significant, and Allen forced Bryant to shoot from farther than the other players averaged.

But, of course, this still includes forwards, centers, and shots around the rim. 295 attempts (32.17%) came from 10 feet or closer, and 76 (8.29%) came from 3 feet or closer.

For Bryant, 1,056 shots with defender data (excluding Allen) came from 10 feet or farther from the rim. He made 342 of them (32.39%).

Against Allen, Bryant was 10 for 26 (38.46%) on shots from 10 feet or farther.

I can't caution enough that the sample size is small and limited in date range, but if we remove the shots near the rim, the numbers don't show Bryant's struggling against Allen.

Allen Versus Other Defenders

We can also look at this in terms of how other defenders have fared against Bryant.

Dating back to 2013, there are 23 defenders who have seen at least 15 attempts by Bryant. Here they are, sorted by total field goal attempts. (You can click on it to see a larger view.)

Kobe Defenders

The 42.11% on two-pointers against Allen ranks 10th-best out of 23. Bryant's three-point percentage against Allen (30%) ranked 12th. In terms of Effective Field Goal Percentage (43.1%), that was 10th-best.

The 2.1 dribbles per attempt were fifth lowest, and the 3.12 seconds per touch tied for second lowest.

Allen's average distance (3.21 feet) ranked ninth closest (i.e. best defended), and the average shot distance (18.9 feet) was 14th-farthest.

By just about every measure, Allen was no tougher than some of these other players who defended Bryant fairly frequently in these past few years.


For one last time, we have to stress that 29 shots isn't exactly a great sample, but rather than guess at game logs, this at least sheds some light on how Allen defended Bryant's actual shots.

We also aren't looking at what happens when Allen's off-ball defense impacted Bryant, or when his on-ball defense resulted in a pass or turnover rather than a shot.

By some indications -- average shot distance, dribbles, touch time, and defender distance -- Allen certainly did what he could to force Bryant to struggle, but when compared to some other wing defenders, Allen's marks don't necessarily show that he was Bryant's toughest match in recent years.

Of course, when we're talking about Kobe Bryant, a made shot doesn't necessarily mean it was an easy look, and we all know from watching Allen that he rarely allows an uncontested shot.

And with more than 25,000 career field goal attempts, Bryant knows a tough defender when he sees one.