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The Allen Factor: Grayson, Donte, and the Fifth Starter Decision

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How might Grayson Allen fit in as Milwaukee’s other starting guard?

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Memphis Grizzlies Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Donte DiVincenzo’s ankle is in recovery. Long live Donte DiVincenzo’s ankle.

While we wish the soon-to-be fourth-year guard all the best and cross our fingers for speedy healing, I think there is reasonable doubt that Donte will be available for the Milwaukee Bucks for much of the 2021-2022 season. Generally speaking, if you’re wearing a big ol’ cast a little over six weeks post-operation, you can assume rehab is going to keep you sidelined for a long while yet.

The Bucks, movers and shakers that they are, knew they’d have a hole to fill with their fifth starter out for the foreseeable future. Enter Grayson Allen, acquired in exchange for Sam Merrill and two future second-round picks. There is an open question as of this moment whether Mike Budenholzer will insert Allen into the starting lineup right away or opt for the likes of Pat Connaughton as a reliable option who knows how to play within Milwaukee’s system. Given that both Donte and Grayson are entering the final seasons on their rookie contracts and will be restricted free agents next offseason, there’s every possibility that how they look in the 2021-2022 offseason ultimately determines whether they stay in Milwaukee or head off to other pastures. Comparing players directly isn’t a perfect science, but in this case it’s a worthwhile mental exercise.

Let’s take a look at some comparisons between the two young guards.


Experience Level

Yeah, this is a pretty arbitrary point upon which to start this examination, but as a team with title-defending aspirations, whether a player has some experience in high-stakes basketball seems at least a little relevant.

We begin with pure game totals. Donte has played in 159 regular season games and started in 90 of them (~56.6% starting rate) whereas Grayson is at 126 games and 50 starts (~39.7%). For playoffs, Donte has 13 appearances (starting in 4) and Grayson has 7 appearances with 0 of them being starts. In each of their latest post-season appearance they played nearly identical per-game minute averages (23.3 for Donte, 23.2 for Grayson) with Donte having better rebound, assist, and steal numbers. Grayson has the edge in scoring and turnovers, though we’ll break those numbers down a bit more later.

Essentially, Donte has significantly more experience playing a sizable role for a high-level team. Grayson had minor appearances for 50-32 Jazz team, and his time spent in Memphis was for a Grizzlies team still figuring out its long-term direction.

Edge: Donte.

Offense

How about shot charts for the 2020-2021 regular season presented without further comment?

Donte:

NBA.com/stats

Grayson:

NBA.com/stats

What jumps out when you take a look at the two?

  1. Donte attacks the hoop at a significantly higher rate than Allen (even though he shot worse percentage-wise)
  2. Allen was a plus three-point shooter at nearly every zone beyond the arc besides the right wing
  3. Both guys have shot profiles that fit in with Budenholzers threes-or-paint preference, though I do note Allen took a bit under 10% of his shots from the top of the key

Each player would end up with a usage rate of around 16.7% last year, so which shots they generally like to take are that much more important for their relative infrequency. In a very wide sense we can say that Allen is the superior three-point shooter whereas Donte (who has improved his 3P% year-over-year) has a more interior-focused offensive mentality. Here are their distance shooting numbers for reference’s sake:

basketball-reference.com

(Note that the total averages shown above differ a bit from that on basketball-reference. You can check the data here and here.)

Since we’re discussing output, I should also note how well their regular season scoring carried over to the playoffs. Observe:

  • Donte: .420/.379/.718 in regular season, .188/.167/.000 in the playoffs (Donte had literally 0 FTA in three games against Miami)
  • Grayson: .418/.391/.868 in regular season, .364/.381/.000 in the playoffs (Allen had literally 1 FTA in five games against Utah)

Both guys saw drops to their percentages, and neither player gets to the free throw line all that much (Donte had a FTrate of .118 and Grayson was at .220) so it’s no surprise their attempts dried up with more sharply defined roles in the playoffs.

Whether you want one or the other kind of player depends on how you envision a second guard thriving within Milwaukee’s starting unit. Part of the secret to Donte’s success is his ability to start and execute a fast-break by attacking a passing lane, and even in set offenses his cutting off-ball forces a defense to adjust/offers a driving teammate a release valve in the paint. In short, he has a track record of variety. Yet there’s part of me that wonders if Allen couldn’t add more cuts to his game while offering a superior shooting option from the jump. Is Allen’s 120 shot disadvantage at the rim rooted more in what he’s been asked to do or what he’s capable of doing?

If you blocked out the names for each guy in their profile and asked me which I wanted to be the fifth guard, I’d tend towards the guy who gets up a ton of three-pointers. That’s my bias showing, so you’re welcome to disagree here.

Edge: Grayson

Defense

He who thinks they can quantify defense is on a fool’s errand. But I have to give it the ol’ college try! Separating significant conclusions from team-defense noise is always a challenge, but here we go.

I’ll level with you: I’ve no idea what stats we should like and which we should, so I’m going to throw a whole bunch of numbers at you for your perusal.

Donte gets the first go as the incumbent Buck. Last year Donte posted a net rating of +8.1 with a DRTG of 109.1, had a STL% of 1.9 which was good for top-40 in the league, a Defensive win-share of 2.1 which is good for top-70, and a DREB% of 15.5% which is top-30 for guards. As we’re aware, he gambles a bit in passing lanes, can weave past picks on occasion, and can generally hold his own against most assignments. He’s a plus-defender in a team defense that can be stifling at times.

For Grayson, there are declines across the board. He had a net rating of +0.5 with DRTG of 111.0, a STL% of 1.7, defensive win shares of 1.2, and DREB% of 10.6%. I’m not going to pretend I’ve watched a lot of Jazz or Grizzlies games, though from the clips I’ve seen it isn’t a matter of his not trying hard. There may be limitations to how much of an impact he’ll have simply based on foot speed and size/length, but so long as he doesn’t fall asleep on three-point shooters and puts in a full effort in maintaining contact with defenders on-ball, the rest of the defense should be able to help lessen any drop off. As usual, you can talk yourself into any untested player making their defense work when they arrive to your team, and Allen will be no different until the rubber hits the road.

There’s a chance Donte loses a bit of his bounce coming off this ligament tear, but until proven otherwise, he gets the nod here.

Edge: Donte

Nickname

Per Basketball-Reference — the internet’s premier source for player nicknames — Donte’s top nickname is the legendary “Big Ragu” while Grayson is working with “G-Money”. On top of an extremely mediocre pasta sauce brand, Donte gets to lay claim to the moniker, “Michael Jordan of Delaware”.

Folks... this one is a massacre.

Edge: The Big Michael Ragu of Delaware


What does all of the above show us? First, that the trade made to acquire Allen looks like some extremely savvy business by Jon Horst in that he acquired a talent that will undoubtedly have a decent role in this year’s rotation. Second, on the face of their statistical output Donte DiVincenzo and Grayson Allen aren’t all that far apart. Donte is the plus-defender and has shown a more versatile shot profile, but Allen has a stronger shooting track record with the possibility to expand his game in an offense that will offer him a chance to branch a bit outside of his jump shooting role.

Whether you prefer one style of guard to another is a matter of personal taste. We’ll have to see how Allen looks before making any grand pronouncements, but for a stopgap option until DiVincenzo is back? Not half bad.