When the Milwaukee Bucks turned Sam Merrill and two second-round picks into Grayson Allen, nobody saw the move for what it was: potentially one of the best under-the-radar moves in the postseason. Where most other teams sought to load up on star talent, Milwaukee patched up one of its few holes at the shooting guard position.
In the process, they might have found their starting two-guard of the future.
Through 14 games this season, Grayson Allen is putting up career-highs in nearly every category. He’s putting up 15.3 points, 4.1 boards, and 1.4 assists per game on excellent .447/.429/.920 splits. It’s safe to say he’s shed his Duke infamy and is slowly building a reputation as one of the league’s premier long-range bombers.
Here’s a quick look at what he’s doing for the Bucks so far, and why he can contribute to playoff success as a surefire lock for their starting shooting guard spot.
He’s not just one of Milwaukee’s best shooters, but the NBA’s, too
Given he’s always had a knack for shooting the basketball from deep, the better question right now is, how did nobody see this coming? Bryn Forbes, after all, also scored career-highs in shooting efficiency when paired next to the All-World gravity of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Allen is no exception.
Regardless of who’s doing the shooting, the marriage of inward and outward gravity is always a sight to behold in Milwaukee’s simplistic yet purposeful offense. In this first clip, Josh Richardson is unable to tag Portis on the roll precisely because of the threat of Allen’s shooting. Bobby finds a wide-open Ojeleye, who then makes the correct extra pass to Allen for the catch-and-shoot trey.
The succeeding clips demonstrate Allen’s excellent ability as a shooter whether off a screen or curl, or in transition. He also displays relative comfort in creating for himself when the situation calls for it.
According to play-type data on NBA.com/stats, Allen is producing 1.42 points per possession on spot-up plays, where he shoots a staggering 70.4 effective field goal percentage. His 7.5 points per game on spot-up plays rank third in the league — behind just Jaylen Brown and Talen Horton-Tucker — putting him in the 96th percentile among players in his position on those plays.
Though 62.2% of his shots are taken with zero dribbles, make no mistake: Grayson Allen isn’t just a spot-up scorer. Despite his offensive profile matching that of a pure shooter, his bag is about as deep as you could hope for at his position. He’s proficient in taking the one-dribble pullup off screens, pulling up for stationary jumpers, and taking the shots off dribble hand-offs. He’s also not afraid to take the pull-up in transition if he feels he has enough daylight to take the shot.
Save for Pat Connaughton, nobody on the Bucks takes more shots at the rim or beyond the three-point line, a stat Allen ranks fifth in the entire league in. Per Cleaning the Glass, he’s also scoring 126.0 points per 100 shot attempts, good for the 92nd percentile in his position. Just take a look at his numbers so far, per NBA.com/stats.
|Less than 10ft||20/39||20.2%||61.3%|
|“Very tight” defense||4/9||4.7%||55.6%|
|Wide open shots||44/98||50.8%||66.3%|
With this versatility, there’s a world of possibility that opens up for the Milwaukee Bucks on offense.
The clip below shows a sideline out-of-bounds play that appears to be drawn up for Allen. The action is simple but effective: Allen runs along the baseline the moment the ball is in George Hill’s hands to use Antetokounmpo and his man as something of a double screen.
What follows is more a defensive lapse from Donovan Mitchell than anything else, but Allen is able to take advantage of it and drain a triple.
In the next clip, Allen comes off a screen from Connaughton and appears as though he’s about to screen Antetokounmpo’s man in Julius Randle. Barrett picks up on this and switches onto Giannis himself, but at the same time, Allen “ghosts” the screen and instead flares out to the perimeter. With both Randle and Barrett focused on Antetokounmpo, all it takes is a simple pass to the top of the key.
It’s as much body language as it is execution and understanding of the gravity of the reigning Finals MVP. If you watch closely, Allen gets wide as he approaches Randle and appears to stop for a moment to sell the ghost screen.
In these clips, Allen doesn’t get his looks as a passive reactor to the offense’s moving parts but as an integral part of the system himself. Whether it’s pull-ups off the fast break or receiving screens and handoffs from the reigning MVP, it’s clear that Gray Allen has the greenest of lights to let it fly.
Allen’s chemistry with Antetokounmpo and the Bucks unlocks their offense
These are just a few examples of Allen’s subtle but effective off-ball movement, which has been crucial to his impact to the team so far. In just the first few weeks of the young season, Allen is already very much adept at giving up the ball, then relocating beyond the three-point line for an open shot from his teammates.
It takes certain chemistry and attention to detail the way he moves in tune with his teammates to find himself open the way he does in these clips. When a big gets middle, he knows to flare out to the wing. When a guard is driving off penetration, he knows to slide to the corners alongside them. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
Despite Antetokounmpo missing some time this season, the two-man lineup of Grayson and Giannis leads the Bucks in total minutes together, per NBA.com/stats. The logic is clear: Antetokounmpo’s interior dominance becomes an even more daunting task for opposing defenders when paired with elite floor-spacers.
The results speak for themselves: the duo of Giannis and Allen is third among all two-man lineups in points per game. And according to PBP Stats, Giannis-to-Allen is the highest assist-to-scorer duo on the Bucks with 18 assists between them so far. It’s almost dizzying how willingly defenders leave him alone to play help defense on the Bucks’ interior minister.
Already, it seems he’s completely replicated that same chemistry that Giannis Antetokounmpo had with Bryn Forbes. (He’s shooting the one-dribble pull-up on an insane 106.7 effective field goal percentage so far.)
He’s a plus defender, too
The main reason Bryn Forbes couldn’t be utilized as much as he could have last year was simple: he gave up points as much as he put them up.
Just a few games in, it’s clear the defending champions will have no such problems with Allen. Everything the Bucks have asked of him on this end, he has delivered. In these clips, his hustle on defense and on the boards shines. His 6’7 wingspan coupled with his excellent motor allow him to keep his 198-pound frame in front of defenders, and he’s generally able to do this quite successfully.
It’s a playstyle that takes advantage of the new rules in the NBA’s officiating this year. Referees are much more likely to let aggressive defenses go uncalled, resulting in a more level landscape for ball-stoppers like Allen.
Defensive matchup data per position paints a very flattering picture of his defense. So far, he’s holding guards to 31/87 or 35.6 percent field goal efficiency. Here are a few of his most eye-catching head-to-head matchups, per NBA.com/stats.
|RJ Barrett||3/9||33.3%||8:24||36.9||2 TOV 2 BLK|
|Jordan Clarkson||1/3||33.3%||3:00||14.5||1 TOV|
At the same time, it’s rather evident that his defensive ability comes largely as a result of unbridled effort than actual mastery of fundamentals. It’s most obvious in his screen navigation: he gets beat rather often but is able to (for the most part) make up for it with quick closeouts. At the same time, he’s able to find ways to bother the opposition even after he gets beat.
Perhaps as a result, he also seems to struggle against the league’s athletic superstars at his position. So far, he’s given up 7/9 on Donovan Mitchell and 4/6 on Bradley Beal. Bigger players also give the 6-foot-4 Allen a tougher time. Forwards and centers are shooting 54.0 and 75.0 percent on him, respectively.
Still, he’s a complete positive on defense overall. In his 418 minutes so far, the Bucks have given up 108.88 points per 100 possessions versus their 112.87 defensive rating with Allen on the bench. They’re just a better and more cohesive defensive unit when he’s on the floor.
Film of his performances so far backs up his defensive ability when it comes to the intangibles outside of one-on-one situations. In these clips, he’s able to make the right reads as he comes in from the weak side. He constantly makes himself a factor with his consistent help-side defense.
His ball screen defense shows a very concrete understanding of what the Bucks do. Here he fights hard over the screen and stays on Barrett’s hip. The Bucks have always played this conservative brand of pick-and-roll coverage. Giannis is dropped rather deep into the paint, and Grayson’s pressure funnels Barrett into the clutches of the former Defensive Player of the Year.
The next clip shows Allen’s presence of mind. His responsibility here is to play help defense, and you can see he’s running to tag the slipping big before the ball even touches Isaiah Stewart’s hands. Allen’s hustle and length allow him to get there just in time to block what would have been an easy dunk.
It’s the same case in the next play, and Grayson is able to take advantage of the bad pass to steal the ball away from Daniel Gafford. Performances like these take a certain level of basketball IQ and understanding of the coaching system to pull off. It’s clear he has both.
Is Grayson Allen Milwaukee’s shooting guard of the future?
The answer so far is yes.
This writer would go as far as saying that the Bucks have never had this competent a two-way scorer at the starting shooting guard position. Bryn Forbes came close with his floor-spacing but often conceded his points right back on the other end.
The reason Donte DiVincenzo couldn’t thrive next to Milwaukee’s starters despite his elite defense and rebounding is that he couldn’t consistently make the shots that were handed to him. This applied to both threes and layups.
Though he is nowhere near the same defender that DiVincenzo is, Allen is able to take advantage of the spacing the Bucks’ system generates whilst being very much competent on the other end.
So far, the advanced statistics speak flatteringly of his potential as a starting shooting guard for this contending Bucks squad. Among starting guards with at least 15 games played, Grayson leads the entire league in turnover ratio (4.8), effective field goal percentage (.606), and true shooting (.633). He’s also 7th in pace (101.27) and 11th in player impact estimate (10.3). He’s doing this all despite having the third-lowest usage percentage (17.7) out of this group.
If Allen is able to keep up his level of play, expect the Bucks to make yet another deep playoff run this year with his lightning-quick release and dogged defensive mentality in tow.