Akshay Manwani Freelance writer based in Mumbai

In an attempt to rid himself of the perils of performance appraisals, Akshay ventured into the world of freelance writing where he combined his twin interests of sports and cinema. He has since contributed to The Caravan, BCCI.tv, Business Standard and Man's World, among other publications. He has followed the fortunes of the NBA since the early ’90s, an experience that has given him extraordinary moments of joy in an otherwise mundane existence.

All season long, Akshay will cover the League from the point of view of a basketball expert living in India. Follow him every week on NBA.com/india!

A New Prince in Memphis

Here’s some trivia for you. Before being traded to the Memphis Grizzlies at the end of last month, Tayshaun Prince was in some really elite company. Along with Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, Prince was one of only seven active players who spent more than 10 years with the same ball club since joining the NBA. That coterie, each one of them certain to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame some day, says a lot about Prince’s value as a player.

And yet, here’s Memphis, in a collective state of mourning after Gay’s departure, with the underlying belief that the tightly knit roster that included the likes of Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Tony Allen and Gay was their best chance at winning an NBA championship. Conveniently forgotten in that hullabaloo was that even with that unit, the Grizzlies were only the fourth best team in the Western Conference, let alone getting their hands anywhere close to an NBA title.

No doubt Gay is a good player, a potent scoring option and a crucial element in the championship aspirations of any side. But he was no LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant or… the list for players who are the centerpiece of a franchise’s championship aspirations. In other words, Gay was good, not great. Seven years in the league and not one All-NBA first, second or third-team appearance, not one All-Defensive first or second-team appearance and not one All-Star appearance, says all that needs to be said about Gay.

And here’s Prince, instead. A man who came into the league in 2002 without any of the hype that accompanies so many potential stars even before they’ve touched the ball in a competitive NBA game. Prince, who was selected 23rd overall in the 2002 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons, played in only 42 games for the Pistons in the 2002-03 season while starting in just five of them. Prince, who then went on to become a regular fixture in the Detroit starting lineup as the Pistons upset the Lakers 4-1 in the 2004 NBA Finals, with Prince’s suffocating defense on Bryant in that series playing a huge role in the Pistons win. Prince, who made it to four straight All-Defensive second teams between 2005 and 2008 and was an integral part of the Detroit team that made it to four straight Eastern Conference Finals in those very same years. Prince, simply put, made the transition from being above average to a solid player.

Which brings us to the direct head-to-head between Gay versus Prince. For all the naysayers, who cussed the day Memphis traded Gay, NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner had said at the start of January 2013 that Gay’s play needed improvement. Aschburner wasn’t without reason in saying what he did. In 42 games this season for Memphis, Gay posted his poorest field-goal (40.8) and 3-point (31.0) shooting percentage since joining the league. At 17.2 PPG, too, his scoring average this season was only better than his first season with Memphis. At 26-years-old, when Gay was supposed to be experiencing an upward curve on his career graph, his numbers were on the downward trend, instead.

Contrast this with Prince, six years older to Gay, who at 32, shot 44.4 and 43.4 percent respectively for the Pistons this season. Yes, Prince is not the scorer that Gay is, but, equally, the former Detroit man is the better defensive bet than the Raptors newest wing player. And, while the critics may question how much Memphis’ defense could improve given that the Grizzlies were already in the top three teams in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions), the rebuttal to that argument is Prince is also the better option against a rampaging Kevin Durant in the playoffs. Moreover, while Gay has played only one playoff series in his seven-year NBA career, Prince has made seven trips to the NBA’s postseason alone. Finally, at a career offensive and defensive rating of 109 and 107 respectively, Prince is ahead of Gay, who totals 104 and 108 in the same categories.

There is the team angle as well. As Chris Herrington wrote in the Memphis Flyer following Prince’s debut for the Grizzlies against the Washington Wizards on February 1, “Prince is both a better passer and less turnover-prone. In his career, including this season, Prince has almost always had more than twice as many assists as turnovers. Gay's usually struggled to break even. Where the offense would often stagnate with the ball in Gay's hands, Prince can be expected to make quicker, more sound decisions.” Herrington concluded, “In truth, Gay's production has not correlated strongly with team success this season… If Prince's divergent, more team-oriented style can enable others to perform better, that will mean much more than his own stat line.”

Yet, Memphis may still not do any better than their first round playoff exit from the 2012 postseason this year. But, contrary to what some may believe, that will not be on account of Gay-for-Prince.

Meanwhile, let’s hear some appreciation for the new Prince in Memphis!

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