We all have our seemingly unexplainable favorites.
You, me, and everyone that has ever walked this mortal coil - one aspect of humanity we all share is liking things that it seems many others are not as supporting of. Perhaps you are one of those strange folks that believes that 98 Degrees was the superior late-90’s boy band. Maybe your favorite character on Parks and Recreation was Garry, or Jerry, Gergich. Do you like licorice candy? Prefer Doctor Strange over every other possible character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Then you may believe Grayson Allen is the best option currently on the wing for the Memphis Grizzlies not named Dillon Brooks or Kyle Anderson.
Or your name might be Taylor Jenkins.
All jokes and pop culture hyperbole aside, it does seem like Grizzlies Head Coach Taylor Jenkins seems to favor the former Duke Blue Devil among all the other options at his disposal at the moment. To some, such as this writer, this is curious considering the elite shooting stroke of Desmond Bane and the defensive acumen and all-around potential of De’Anthony Melton. Both Bane and Melton, between skill set and age (De’Anthony and Desmond are 22, Grayson is 25), would logically make sense for more minutes than Grayson.
Yet Allen is right in line in minutes per game with Bane and Melton, and has started four games for the Grizzlies this season while neither Desmond nor De’Anthony have started a single contest. This is in spite of the fact that, through 12 games, Allen is shooting over 10% worse from the field than both. If you want to point to the theory that Grayson is a better creator off the dribble of his own offense than both, consider the fact that according to basketball-reference.com over 85% of his two point buckets almost 94% of his three point makes come off of assists. Bane is better on twos and about the same on threes, while Melton overall creates his own looks better than both players. Defensively Allen does not have the physical attributes of Melton or the physical strength of Bane.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Grayson Allen, among the three, should be the odd man out while Melton and Bane absorb those minutes. But still, Jenkins persists. So why, outside of enjoying an advantage of depth and the clear goal of the Grizzlies that no player average more than 30 minutes per game in an effort to keep players healthy/fresh, does Allen still get chances?
Because Grayson does indeed contribute to winning basketball...and he participates in the “Grizzlies Standard” better than Bane and Melton in specific ways. Ways that can catch the eyes of a coach - and that wining style of play is reflected in his .101 win shares per 48 minutes according to basketball-reference.com, which is the best mark among wings that have played in at least half (6) of the Grizzlies games so far.
Instead of belaboring the point of why Bane or Melton should start, try to look for the bright side and find why Allen keeps finding himself getting opportunities to solidify a rotational role in Memphis.
He shoots a ton of threes
Grayson Allen takes his role of floor spacing shooter seriously. Perhaps more importantly, he seems to have been paying attention to the reliance that Jenkins had on Jae Crowder and how he stuck with him despite shooting at a low conversion percentage from outside the three point line. Even with a 29.3% three point shot last season, Crowder logged a team best (besides Anthony Tolliver, who only played 236 minutes for Memphis) 66.7% three point rate, meaning two thirds of Crowder’s shots for the Grizzlies were from beyond the arc. As annoying as the term “shooting gravity” may be to some (cough me cough) there’s no denying that Jenkins values such a willingness to take to the long-range seriously.
And Grayson’s current 70.3% three point rate is both higher than what Crowder did and is currently first on the Grizzlies (outside of Sean McDermott and his 42 minutes of playing time) while shooting 35.6% from beyond the arc.
So Allen’s “gravity”, at least theoretically, should be greater than that of Crowder - a clear Jenkins favorite. While Jae had the “veteran presence” argument on his side as well, the only way to fully explain Crowder playing ahead of better statistically and physically players like Kyle Anderson is that willingness to launch. And Grayson is better at it - both in terms of conversions and tries.
Allen’s shooting choices aren’t perfect. He is last on the team in percentage of attempts at the rim (within 0-3 feet) at 10.9% and is also last in conversion rate from that distance at 42.9%. Even Crowder shot around the basket more consistently with the Grizzlies (20.3% on a 51.9% conversion rate). In terms of “good shots” in the modern NBA, coaches want buckets at the tin or from three, and Grayson still lives in the inefficient midrange too much (10% of his shots come from 10-16 feet, where he is shooting 33% according to basketball-reference.com).
But Allen knows to let it fly. Taylor Jenkins loves that. And as long as Grayson is shooting respectably or better while doing so, he figures to be a prime fixture in this Memphis offense.
He defends without fouling
No, Grayson will never be mistaken for Tony Allen or Matisse Thybulle. He often gets exploited in man on man situations, and off ball he can be inconsistent in his help rotations. Still, the numbers surprisingly tell us (and if we think about it, our eyes back it up) that Grayson is improving as a creator of turnovers. He is currently posting a career best 2.3% steal percentage, a drastic jump from his 0.7% career mark. But on a Grizzlies team that prioritizes steals and deflections (Memphis is now 1st in the NBA in steals and 2nd in deflections) that places Grayson at 6th on the roster among players that have played in at least half the team’s games (John Konchar will likely bump him to 7th if he plays in a couple contests soon). He’s doing his part...but what separates him from the pack?
He’s not making the refs blow the whistle while doing it.
Allen is in the 91st percentile among combo guards in the NBA in foul percentage, according to Cleaning the Glass. When compared to Desmond Bane and De’Anthony Melton (33rd percentile) as well as Dillon Brooks (3rd percentile) he shines in this regard. He is smart enough to anticipate opposing offensive movements and passing lanes while not being overly aggressive or putting himself in poor defensive position and trying to correct it by reaching.
That’s not to say he’s better defensively than Melton or Brooks, or even Bane. It is, however, something that Jenkins has stated as a goal on numerous occasions - improvements as a team in the area of defending without fouling. Allen has indeed showed signs of growth there. It is further evidence that he is listening to his coach...and another piece of evidence around Jenkins rewarding such emphasis on an aspect of team development from a player.
No, Grayson Allen doesn’t have the high ceiling of De’Anthony Melton. He is not the shooter that Desmond Bane is or was. He’s three years older than Bane and Melton and as the team acquires data on what exactly they have on the roster, Grayson seems to be more of a known commodity than De’Anthony or Desmond. This isn’t meant to be an argument in favor of the role that Allen plays.
It is an attempt at reconciling with the fact that, as long as Grayson is in Memphis, Taylor Jenkins is going to give him opportunities.
The good news is that Allen is helping the Grizzlies stay afloat in the Western Conference. Could more of Bane and Melton instead of this much Grayson be better in both the short and long-term? Perhaps. But Allen is a strong system player within the Grizzlies “Standard”. Will that translate to playing time as Justise Winslow gets in to the wing rotation in the weeks ahead? Time will tell - Bane and Allen are likely fighting for that last spot in the rotation, and Desmond is an elite shooter that needs to show growth in other areas of his game. But in the competition for who will be part of the next great Grizzlies team and who may be trade fodder in future dealings, Allen is holding his own while making his case for sticking around.
And learning to love what Grayson brings to Memphis will make the journey ahead that much more interesting and enjoyable to watch.