X-factor: Phoenix Suns’ Grayson Allen emerges as ‘absolute stud’ in season of comebacks and thrills

Grayson Allen’s consistent performance has made him an indispensable asset to the Phoenix Suns during the 2023-24 NBA season. (Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Grayson Allen has been called many things: a great shooter, a hothead, a national champion, an irritant.

A bevy of positive and negative connotations have been associated with Allen in the past. Now it’s time to add a new adjective to the list: X-factor.

Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal are the stars for Phoenix, not Allen. But like clockwork, Allen rises to the occasion.

“This guy is an absolute stud,” Suns broadcaster and former player Tom Chambers said last Thursday about Allen in an appearance on the Bickley & Marotta radio show. “Every statistical number there is across the board for Grayson Allen is a career best. This guy is a godsend. He’s a tremendous player.”

Allen, the 21st overall pick out of Duke in the 2018 NBA draft, has never spent more than two years with the same team. He bounced between the Jazz, Grizzlies and Bucks before landing with the Suns this offseason as part of the blockbuster trade that sent Damian Lillard to Milwaukee and Deandre Ayton to Portland.

“A guy who can shoot the basketball, guard some high IQ guys, and he’s all of that,” Suns coach Frank Vogel said of Allen. “So it’s just a notch or two above what we expected [coming in].”

The former Duke star can perfectly pick his spots on offense, knowing when it’s time to get his own points or defer to his teammates. Wednesday night, in another wild comeback for the Suns, Allen had his sixth consecutive game with three or more 3-pointers made, finishing with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists in 34 minutes of action as Phoenix beat Dallas, 132-109, on the road.

His abilities shone brightest in Phoenix’s matchup against the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 16. The Suns started their recent comeback trend by becoming the first team since 2020 to win a game while facing a 22-point fourth-quarter deficit.

Allen scored six points, dished out three assists, grabbed two rebounds and posted a steal and a block in nine minutes of play during the fourth quarter. In the game, he led all Phoenix scorers with 29 points, five boards, six assists and two steals and two blocks, all while tying his career and a franchise-high nine triples on 14 attempts.

“We have the ability, offensively, to put up a lot of points in a hurry,” Allen said following the Sacramento game. “That ability, when you are down 20, you are always in the game. So, for us the fourth quarter was about getting some good stops”

“He is a sniper, somebody that I have a bunch of trust in on the court,” Booker said of Allen after a game against Miami on Jan. 5. “Not only to make threes but to play make and to defend at a high level. Everybody is going to see the threes made. But people start running him off the line, he is not one of those guys that is one dimensional where you run him off the line and he does not know what to do. He still gets in the paint, still draws fouls and still makes the right play for other people. So, it is super impressive.”

Now in his sixth season, he may have to start house hunting if he continues to play at a high level in Phoenix. In addition to the 3-point shooting he’s known for, Allen has attacked the basket and played off the dribble more, creating additional opportunities to score or set up teammates for points.

“And it’s probably a strength now that it’s kind of secondary to 3-point shooting because now when I do drive, most people really aren’t expecting it,” Allen said.

This new development has blossomed with more space on the floor this year compared to the last two when he played with a strong paint scorer in Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee.

“We have four or five shooters spacing the floor,” Allen continued. “We’re getting into drive and kick. You can get multiple drives and multiple actions, multiple kicks. When you’re playing with Giannis, 70, 80 percent of the time, they’re already going to have five people in the paint. So if you pass up a three and drive it, you’re not going to go anywhere.”

Allen has the highest 3-point percentage in the NBA at 49.3%, which also marks a career high for the swingman. His 51.0/49.3/90.3 shooting splits make him the only qualified 50/40/90 player in the league this year. Allen and his wife Morgan Reid have been planning a vacation during February’s NBA All-Star weekend, but his marksmanship could earn him a spot in the Three-Point Contest.

Would he accept the invitation? And of course, would his wife be OK with canceling vacation plans?

“Oh yeah I would, I would consider it,” Allen said. As for his wife, a former professional soccer player who also played at Duke, he added, “I think she would [be ok with it]. I think she would think it’d be cool to go to the Three-Point Contest.”

While generally regarded as a plus defender, Allen has become one of the better shot-blocking guards in the NBA. He’s already achieved a career high in blocks for a season at 24, eclipsing his previous best of 18 blocks by his 33rd game of the year. His single-game high of two blocks (which he’s done 12 times) isn’t noteworthy by itself. Realizing six of those games have come this year, and four of them in January is what’s impressive. It’s almost as if his New Year’s resolution was to be the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon.

“More like Dwyane Wade,” Allen chortled when asked about his resolutions, referring to the Hall of Fame blocks leader amongst guards. “I think a lot of it has been upside, off the ball and coming over when the bigs or whoever’s down there kind of thinks they have an open layup. Catch them by surprise. So hopefully I can keep that up. Because right now I’m at a career-high pace.”

Halfway through the season, it seems the Suns are starting to find their mojo. How the team can continue to improve the roster around Booker, Durant and Beal will remain to be seen as the Feb. 8 trade deadline approaches. At least the Suns know Allen can be their X-factor the rest of the way toward their championship aspirations.

David Bernauer DAY-vid BER-now-er (he/his/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

David Bernauer expects to graduate in May 2024 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Bernauer has previously worked in the Phoenix Sports Bureau and TV Production & Graphics Lab, as well as interning with the Florida Collegiate Summer League. He is a contributing writer with The Sixth Man Show.