The if of the 5th: Grayson Allen has experience edge of potential Suns starters
Sep 30, 2023, 10:29 AM
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
The unofficial start to the NBA season in media day is within a week, and who the Phoenix Suns make the fifth starter alongside Deandre Ayton, Bradley Beal, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant is unknown.
Well, that was how we introduced this series on Tuesday, a day before Ayton (and Toumani Camara) was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers as part of a multi-team trade in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen, Nassir Little and Keon Johnson.
Nurkic slots in for Ayton but the question still remains of who the fifth starter is, and now the Suns have even more options.
It is a compliment to the depth Phoenix has built up but also points to how necessary it is that they must figure that out. We are going to roll through eight candidates leading up to media day on Monday with respect to names like Damion Lee, Chimezie Metu and Ish Wainright, who could hypothetically start games this season as well.
While much intrigue is percolating in regard to the player receiving the nod on opening night in the Bay, we will instead preview all of the options under the optics of who starts the first game of round one in the postseason.
This means our conversations will naturally trend toward what these players have to do over the course of the regular season to earn that spot and how they can differentiate themselves over that time, as opposed to keeping it more theoretical by projecting how training camp and such goes.
That is likely how this will pan out. Head coach Frank Vogel will try different looks and grant various opportunities across a seven-month period. Injuries will force him to do so anyway. Could the Day One starter secure that job immediately? Sure. But Vogel and his staff would be wise to sift through everything he’s got.
Grayson Allen’s case as Suns’ 5th starter
Why should he start: Because he’s got the most experience. Aside from Eric Gordon, Allen stands as the sixth Suns player in terms of being solidly capable of being in a playoff team’s rotation after Durant, Booker, Beal and Nurkic.
The Duke product has started 171 of his 264 career games in five seasons, and he’s had a gradual build in terms of his role. Now 27, he’s on a tier above all of the questionable minimum contract players on the roster and has been a double-digit scorer in each of the last three regular seasons. Allen also has 24 games of playoff experience under his belt, including heavy runs with the Milwaukee Bucks in the past two seasons.
Pros: He’s a 40% three-point shooter for his career and at nearly five attempts per game in limited minutes on top of it. In other words, he gets them up and does so at a high rate in the corners like teammates Damion Lee and Yuta Watanabe. It’s what else he does that separates him as an upgrade in the rotation from what else the Suns have to work with.
While he’s not necessarily a great defender, he can hold up against most guards — in spurts at least. Allen has enough to handle play initiation duties as well if he’s not being locked up by top-tier defenders. And he won’t be in the latter position if he’s starting alongside Booker and Beal. There’s enough play-making equity to like.
Cons: Allen left Duke with a reputation as a dirty player and an elite shooter. You probably knew that. That hasn’t necessarily changed in the NBA. We can judge that reputation on a play-by-play basis, but it’s clear Allen isn’t afraid to square up with players defensively. You can call that a pro if he’s on your team and a con if he’s on your team earning flagrants.
In some ways, Allen might be a little redundant with Gordon. The 27-year-old is not as good of an athlete and doesn’t have as much of a midrange game even compared to Gordon, who is seven years older. Gordon shot 166 attempts in the shot midrange (3-10 feet) last year to Allen’s 61 attempts in about the same number of games played.
Likelihood of starting: Does Allen do enough to defensively complement Booker and Beal, taking enough off of them to be worth a look in the starting lineup? Not really.
Does he do enough on the ball to relieve them of ball-handling duties? Probably not.
Still, he’s got a mix of skills that makes you wonder if it’s a nice middle ground to land with as the fifth starter. If the Suns go smaller, it’s in-between the skillset of Gordon, who would be best served swapping in for one of the Big 3, and guys like Josh Okogie or Jordan Goodwin, who might be a negative to the floor spacing of Phoenix’s starting lineup but plus defenders. I wouldn’t necessarily pick a defensive-minded coach to pick him over the other options, however.