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Grayson Allen is more than a villain

Grayson Allen stepped up in the biggest moments this season.

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Since emerging as an NBA prospect, Grayson Allen has been typecast as another in a long line of Duke villains in the tradition of Christian Laettner and JJ Redick. He is no stranger to hostile environments and opposing fans calling him a dirty player. That narrative tends to taint any evaluation of Grayson Allen as a basketball player. Allen was an incredibly accomplished college player, being topped by winning an NCAA championship, but prior to this season there was a real question if he belonged in an NBA rotation.

Allen answered that question this season. While he can be a streaky shooter, he has never shot below 37% from deep in his career. He has lapses on defense but has proven he is not a liability on that end when locked in. The Memphis Grizzlies were a significantly better team when Grayson Allen is playing well.

Allen dealt with various injuries including an abdominal strain and concussion, limiting him to 50 games this season but when he was healthy, Taylor Jenkins preferred him in the starting lineup. This endorsement from the coaching staff bodes well for his future with the Grizzlies.

NBA: Playoffs-Utah Jazz at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Viewed as a throw in in the Mike Conley trade, some pointed to Allen’s 40-point outburst in his last game in a Jazz uniform as evidence of his potential. It’s important to consider the context of that performance - teams with nothing to play for don’t exactly give their best effort that late in the season, but it certainly made Grizzlies fans take notice. He may never live up to that potential but there are plenty of contending teams that have a player like Grayson Allen on their roster and it hinted at the impact he might have when playing in meaningful games, something he had done his entire college career, make big shots and contributing to winning basketball.

Allen ultimately made good on that promise with a fantastic sequence in overtime to clinch the play in game against the Warriors, hitting two key threes and stealing the ball from Steph Curry, redeeming himself for a dreadful performance in the previous play-in game against the Spurs where he turned into a traffic cone on defense and was unable to hit a shot. It was heartening to see Allen come back from injury and establish himself as a key cog in a successful Grizzlies postseason run.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest question for Grayson Allen going forward is how he fits on the Grizzlies roster in the long term. The Grizzlies have too much duplication on their squad, particularly at the guard spots. Desmond Bane is a more consistent shooter and De’Anthony Melton is a more impactful defender, but Grayson Allen’s best moments stick out as some of the more memorable of the 2020-2021 Grizzlies campaign. Allen is a restricted free agent in 2022 in an offseason when the Grizzlies will have important roster decisions to make. Trade rumors will swirl but It would not be surprising for the Grizzlies to make resigning Allen a priority, counting on his ability to show up in big moments. The front office has shown a tendency to favor winning players and Allen fits that role.

Another part of his game that might intrigue the Grizzlies long term is Grayson Allen’s deceptive athleticism. He’s had a few posters this season, with my personal favorite being against Aleksej Pokusevski. Allen doesn’t make these types of plays on a consistent basis, but it shows he has room to grow. If he can harness that athleticism and become a more consistent defender his ceiling is significantly higher than a role player.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

For much of his career Grayson Allen has played the role of the villain. Rather than making that his identity, he has let his play speak for itself. He responded to criticism by helping the Grizzlies advance to the playoffs. Allen certainly has the pedigree to be a cog in future playoff runs and I suspect the Grizzlies front office agrees.

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