Purple and orange siren alert! Grayson Allen in a Phoenix Suns uniform is not indeed the second coming of Landry Shamet in a Suns uniform. Phew.
Fears I tweeted after Game 2 were obviously unfounded and, like all Twitter takes (except yours, of course, who are reading this) way too knee-jerk in the moment likely indefensible in the light of day.
I could spend a few paragraphs explaining my jump-to-conclusion, including that both were proven 39% three-point shooters coming in, both were oft-starters for playoff level teams, both can handle the dribbling (remember Shamet was a PG in college?), both put out effort on D, both got about the same post-rookie salary to be a quality role player, and both had already been traded three times in their short careers. I’ll stick to this one paragraph and a handy dandy graph to show the similarities.
*courtesy of the awesome and worth the $ stathead.com/basketball
Then they put on Suns uniforms.
Landry was a disappointment in Phoenix to everyone not named Monty Williams. He couldn’t stay healthy, for one thing, missing 42 of the 82 regular season games last year. And when he was thrust into the starting lineup due to the Booker injury, he crapped the bed badly. Hated to take the open shot, turned his launch angle into a low straight line at the bucket, and made only 33% of his shots when he took them with a -14.6 +/- net rating as a starter. He was better off the bench (39%, +10.1 +/-) but still just never became someone who made plays.
Fast forward to this week. Grayson Allen, who I’ve grown to really like as a person off a simple couple of interviews, started his Suns' career in Landry-esque fashion.
In his first two games (both starts for Brad Beal), he averaged a paltry 3 points on 6 shot attempts in almost 29 minutes per game. 29 is a lot of minutes for so little production, folks.
And that’s when the Suns really needed him, with Bradley Beal out both games and Devin Booker out one. U.G.L.Y. The Suns are hoping the combination of Allen and Eric Gordon can fill in at least as their primary backups, and oft-starters as they miss the inevitable games.
So here we are. Which prompted me to post this after the loss to the Lakers where the whole Suns roster decided ‘triple-teamed KD has a better chance to score than we do’.
It’s a shame that Grayson Allen turned into Landry Shamet when the regular season started— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) October 27, 2023
That was obviously a trapped-in-the-moment tweet, but isn’t that the beauty of Twitter, and I got roasted. In my worries about his shot-making, I had failed to pick up on his rebounds (3) and assists (5) per game average in that short two-game stretch. And the Suns as a team had posted the 4th best defensive rating in the league against two of the West’s best.
But hot takes are what Twitter is for, right? Later in the week tweeted one line about how Book’s injury is mysteriously traveling up his leg — which is medically understandable based on how the body works as they go through tests — and got roasted for it. Some even went after me personally, which got ‘em the block hammer.
I digress. Back to Grayson Allen.
What I saw from Grayson Allen on Saturday changed my perspective. He made an early three, and kept the ball moving all half. David Nash (@theIVpointplay on Twitter) shared some early moments from Allen that barely registered in the box.
Grayson Allen did like 6 things in the first 1:30 mins of play the other night that illustrate why he's a great fit as a starter/finisher with the Big 3.— David (@theIVpointplay) October 21, 2023
Screen, space, attack, chase, rebound, drive. pic.twitter.com/vdWE7699sD
He later exploded for 13 third quarter points (5-6 shooting) that helped the Suns stretch a 16-point lead to 33. He got rebounds, steals, and free throws (2 of each), and took the ball all the way down for a dunk twice with the defense in close pursuit (once was flagrantly fouled on the attempt).
He finally made some threes (3-7) and finished the game with 17 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. But even more than that, his energy level had a good effect on the whole team. Like I said, during that stretch the Suns lead ballooned from 16 to 33.
He’s got a fire in him that Landry never showed. No, Allen is not a point guard. He’s still a bit small (6’4”, short arms) for playoff basketball, but he works so hard his minutes don’t go down, unlike Landry. Last two years in Milwaukee, his production actually went up. Oh, he’s definitely fifth-starter level, but he’s made over 40% of his playoff threes and works hard on defense.
Check out these highlights from last night’s game and tell me if he’s the next Landry Shamet or something better than that.
So I take back my ‘Dark Landry’ comment in the offseason, because of his bad rep from earlier in his career. Even Grayson admits the rep was deserved. Here he is at Media Day talking about that, in response to a question from Duane Rankin of AZ Republic/AZCentral.com.
“I can’t really say it’s not fair because I have owned up to the stuff,” Allen says, of his rep for things at Duke like kicking at opponents as they drive by him, potentially injuring them in the process. “I have to say that 99% was immaturity. Me being a kid in a man’s sport I just wasn’t ready to handle it. I’ve been at four different spots now [in the NBA] and I feel like the fans kind of slowly change their minds and opinion. When people call me a competitor who plays hard, I do live up to that.”
Still, he’s not perfect.
He mentions that he had an issue last year that brought back the ‘Dirty Allen’ comps, but he says that wasn’t on purpose. Here’s one where he got bumped by one Bull, but then rammed right into the back of DeMar DeRozan.
And this. Allen tried to stop a fast break dunk but caught wrist and upended Caruso instead. Caruso suffered a fractured wrist.
So Allen is still a leeetle dirty. He’ll lose his head at times and will be targeted for it on the other end sometimes too — possibly contributing to being flagrantly pushed last night in the back on his breakaway dunk of his own.
Is he like Danny Ainge, for those old enough to remember Ainge’s playing days? Ainge had a rep for the ‘extra’ hot head around the league but became a home fan favorite, and helped the Suns make the NBA Finals in 1993.
Or is he just a punk, who when he’s calm he seems like a perfect, intellectual student of the game who could contribute to title contenders as a player and someday build championship teams from behind a desk?
We don’t know yet.
I like his answers to our questions. Earlier this preseason, I caught up with him in the locker room to ask about how some guys suddenly go from undrafted edge-of-roster to star by figuring out the foul-merchant tricks, like Austin Reaves in LA. He spent five minutes explaining the nuance of timing those rip-throughs to get contact that are split-second decisions. You’ve got to perfectly time your hip thrusts, shooting motion swings, and such in that nano moment the defender is where you want them. It’s a talent honed into a skill, one that Grayson says can make you look bad if you miss the moment. Because you’re going for the contact first, shot second. If you miss contact, your shot is never on line. He respects those guys but knows he doesn’t have that perfect sense of timing like Reaves and Harden do.
And then I asked him last night about the constant beat-drumming about the Suns not having a true point guard running the show for the Suns. His answer on this was pretty good too. Take a listen, and thanks to our former-contributor-turned-Clutch-Points editor Trevor Booth for recording it.
“It gets harder when the game slows down,” he admitted. “But it gets more of a comfortability thing that will come after a few games. It’s more of a point guard by committee. Even on made baskets, it whoever is closest to the ball. We’re getting a lot of stuff in transition, 3 on 3 or 4 on 4. When we play like that there’s no need of a true point guard.”
Guys who can bring the ball up this year include not only KD, Book, and Beal, but also Eric Gordon, Jordan Goodwin, Josh Okogie, and Grayson Allen. They just pass it to the guy not being picked up full court.
In game 3, the Suns had 31 assists on 45 field goals against only 11 turnovers. They got transition chances with 10 steals and 7 blocks. Five different players had at least 5 assists in the game, with at least 1 assist from 5 more. And this without Booker or Beal.
The passing game is a work in progress though. That same lineup had only 16 assists last Thursday against the better-defense Lakers, after which the team watched a lot of film to see where they were going wrong on movement, aggression, and spacing. I spoke to Jordan Goodwin in the locker room after last night’s game, and he openly admitted that it was tough on Thursday because that was the first time they’d ever even played together like that so miscommunication was bound to happen.
This supporting unit, led by Eric Gordon (21 first half points) and Grayson Allen (13 third quarter points), plus guys like Josh Okogie (5th starter), Jordan Goodwin (12 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists), Yuta Watanabe and Nassir Little are going to help this team win a lot of games this year.
My brain right now cannot fathom last year’s Suns — missing, say, two of Booker/Paul/Durant, beating any team by 30 through 3 quarters. I even skimmed the boxes from last year and can’t find any.
The Suns were supposed to be unguardable on offense and lackadaisical on defense. So far, missing some of their unguardables, they decided to lean in on defense. The Suns currently rank 4th in defense in the league after these three games, and are 2-1 despite posting only the 19th best offense. And to top it off, their only loss came because the Lakers played LeBron James and Anthony Davis the entire fourth quarter to overcome a double-digit deficit to the depleted Suns and barely pulled it out.
Gonna be a fun season, folks.
A home-and-home against the Wemby Spurs, who visit Phoenix for games on Tuesday and Thursday. That guy Victor Wembanyama is a marvel.
And right next door is the WORLD SERIES.
You can bet the Suns and Spurs will check out at least one of the DBacks World Series games on Monday or Wednesday. Kevin Durant already said he and Book will be there at least once in their field-level seats and the whole Suns team is riveted to the TVs right up to game times in the locker room.
The Spurs (maybe not Frenchy Wemby) are likely invested too, considering the opponent is from their home state of Texas.
Big week in the Valley!