On August 6th, the Milwaukee Bucks acquired Grayson Allen from the Memphis Grizzlies for Sam Merrill and two future 2nd-round picks. Six years after Allen poured in an efficient 16 points on 8 field goal attempts against the Wisconsin Badgers during the 2015 NCAA National Championship game, it feels almost literary that Allen joins Wisconsin to help the Bucks defend their title. As a UW-Madison alum, I had to put aside my inclination towards antagonism to determine whether or not Grayson Allen would be a helpful addition to the Bucks. Spoiler alert (and a cruel twist of fate, I might add): he probably will be.
Grayson Allen’s 3-Point Shooting
Unlike Baby, the Grizzlies often put Allen in the corner while Ja Morant, Jonas Valančiūnas, Dillon Brooks, and Kyle Anderson went to work. While not a certifiable sharpshooter, Allen’s 39% clip on 5.5 3-point attempts per game (66.2% of his total shot attempts) is enough that a defender can’t cheat off him. He took the majority of his threes off the catch, but last season, he improved dramatically as a pull-up 3-point shooter. The following chart shows his pull-up 3-point attempts per game in each of his three NBA seasons.
Not only did he basically double his pull-up attempts, but his shooting percentage jumped 12 percentage points. It’s possible that the 2021 season was an outlier pull-up shooting season for Allen, so I’ll be keeping a close eye on this percentage with Milwaukee. Since he has other strong indicators of a good shooting stroke, I’m willing to bet that his pull-up game is here to stay.
Grayson Allen’s Scoring in a Tertiary Role
At this point, Allen doesn’t seem to possess the requisite handle to be a legitimate secondary creator. Most of his driving attempts came off movement plays where he was able to gain a head of steam first or attack open space. Very rarely did he reach into his bag to break down a defender en route to any sort of creation. According to stats.nba, he averaged 1 isolation possession every 5 games. Here’s a great example of Memphis running “Away” for him — a double stagger with Allen starting in the corner.
When given a runway, Allen brings a physicality to his drives. I noticed many instances of him planting both feet before exploding straight into a waiting help defender.
In an offensive system, Allen slots in best when he’s not the focal point, but his speed off-the ball, shooting ability, and physical, line-drive ability makes him a potent tertiary creator. One of Milwaukee’s pet plays from last season was an Iverson Cut for Middleton followed by a ghost screen and fade from one of their guards (Forbes, DiVincenzo, Connaughton, etc.). Ultimately, Middleton would run through two stagger screens set near the top of the key before catching the ball above the three-point line. Immediately after, another guard (who set the initial screen) would follow suit, set a fake screen for Middleton, and instead run to the corner. Allen should perfectly play that role in Milwaukee’s offense.
Grayson Allen’s First Base Passing
None of the passes that I watched Allen throw were jaw-dropping, but I was impressed with his quick decision making and drive-and-kick game. In other words, he didn’t hit any home runs or triples, but he consistently made it to first base.
You can also see the extent to his dribbling abilities where he employs a sort of herky-jerky style of attack. With his explosiveness, he can hesitate for a moment before penetrating the defense.
Again, I want to emphasize that he doesn’t create the initial dent; he’s almost always quickly attacking an advantage created by another player or good ball movement.
If nothing else, this just comes full-back to his main issue: ball handling. Like Vince Carter, Allen struggles to consistently get two feet in the paint off primary creation. When he does (usually off off-ball movement or attacking space), he drives with physicality or makes the right passing read. When he doesn’t, he often falls back on a floater from a distance.
Milwaukee’s Guard Trio: The Elephant in the Room
Before continuing, let’s talk about the Milwaukee guard trio: Pat Connaughton, Donte DiVincenzo, and now Grayson Allen. Throughout the 2021-22 season, announcers will foam at the mouth to compare these three white guards. What’s complicated about them is that they are exceptionally similar especially when looking at their builds and leaping abilities.
|height (shoes)||6′ 4.5″||6′ 4.5″||6′ 5.25″|
|wingspan||6′ 6.5″||6′ 8.75″||6′ 8″|
|standing reach||8′ 1.5″||8′ 1″||8′ 0″|
All of their heights are within an inch of each other, their standing reaches are quite short, and their verticals are astounding. Announcers are going to code their conversations about them saying that they’re “more athletic than you think,” “surprisingly springy,” or some other variation. Please don’t fall for that. They are vertically athletic. For anyone. Period. Both Connaughton and DiVincenzo literally boasted the highest vertical jumps in their respective draft classes, and Allen was in the top 10 of his. Skin color is not a genetic determinant of one’s athleticism, and when people validate that opinion by repeating it, it opens the door for other nefarious beliefs about how skin color can dictate a person’s disposition, intelligence (coded as IQ in sports), or way of life.
If you want to be smart about comparing these three, you can cite the fact that they all essentially play the same position, play with an almost reckless athleticism, and can’t self-create very well. There are obviously differences between them (DiVincenzo has oddly poor touch around the rim; Connaughton is a very poor passer; Allen is the best shooter), but they are similar in a lot of other ways. Don’t let your analysis contain racial tropes.
Grayson Allen’s Physical Defense
Based on his physical profile, Allen is a limited defender. With his lack of standing reach, it’s quite difficult for him to make off-ball plays or provide help-side rim protection (like Zion Williamson, a phenomenal vertical alone does not make a good rim protector). Without either of those, I’m skeptical of him ever being much of a high impact defender.
Nevertheless, Allen makes up for those deficiencies with a combination of a high motor, quick feet, and a willingness to be physical. In one of the most impressive defensive plays last season, Allen disrupted a dribble handoff to Trae Young and dove to beat Bogdan Bogdanović to the loose ball, causing a turnover. Disrupting DHOs is not common, and to add the extra hustle is just basketball bliss.
Even though those results aren’t a consistent outcome, he regularly displays that defensive motor. It’s a short possession, but watch as he flies around the court ending with a futile contest at the rim.
More than anything, that sort of defensive play is probably why Coach Budenholzer would want Allen on the Bucks. Milwaukee has built a defensive powerhouse the last couple of years, and replacing the Jeff Teague and Bryn Forbes minutes with another defensively competent player will make their tough shell all the more daunting.
However, Allen is by no means an event creator: he doesn’t rack up many blocks, steals, or deflections. Using my Good/Great Plays metric (the sum of steals, blocks, and deflections per 75), Allen ranked 89th out of 112 guards who played at least 1,000 minutes. (For comparison, Connaughton measured out at 78th, and DiVincenzo at 31st. Jrue was 8th. Forbes was 112th…).
Regardless, Allen’s motor allows him to opportunistically make plays because he’s always in the thick of the action.
At the end of the day, his defensive role will be that of a pesky bee in the midst of a violent swarm. Every single player who faces Milwaukee next year will need to be prepared for the constant physicality that the Bucks will bring both on offense and defense. Holiday showed the importance of that sort of defense during the Finals, and even though nobody on the team will match Giannis or Holiday here, Milwaukee will have a solid rotation of players against whom teams will hate to compete.
A Solid Offseason for the Bucks
Along with picking up Rodney Hood, Milwaukee’s offseason moves point towards a team that learned from their tribulations during the playoffs. The Brooklyn series was a wakeup call that immense offensive talent might be the key to winning in today’s league, but the Finals showed the importance of having a deep bench. Milwaukee regaining DiVincenzo again, trading for Allen, and signing Hood allows the Bucks to more effectively eat innings throughout the season, and their depth allows Bud to stubbornly continue with his style even if they’re bitten by the injury bug.
Giannis, Middleton, and Holiday are the engines that make this team successful, but as Ben Taylor illustrated, the supporting players are just as important for winning a championship. Milwaukee smartly invested on the margins for another title run.
Cody Houdek is a writer and podcaster for Premium Hoops where he co-hosts Sense and Scalability. He also assists with videos for the Thinking Basketball YouTube channel. You can find all of his work (articles, videos, and podcasts) here.